All the King's Horses and All the King's Men
by tango and indie

AUTHORS' NOTES: This fic ventures into dark and somewhat controversial territory.  All characters are human.  Contains mention of physical and sexual abuse, drug abuse, rape, language and graphic sex.  A portion of the plot and characterization were inspired by the novel, One On One by Tabitha King.  No infringement intended, no profit gained from this work.

 



“Oh, god,” Cordelia groaned at Angel’s side, flipping her hair irritably over her shoulder.  “Who let the dyke in this party?”

Angel glanced across the room and spotted her instantly.  Wearing her ever-present set of faded cargo pants and tank top, Buffy Summers was slumped next to a guy he didn’t know.  The only reason he knew the little burnout at all because she was friends with Cordy in middle school, back before she had that slashing scar across her lips, back before she spent more time getting fucked and fucked up than she did eating a meal.

Angel glanced back at his sister and shrugged.  “Fuck if I know,” he answered.  Why should he care if the skinny little druggie was at the party?  She could fuck half the room – and probably would – for some meth or smoke or maybe just the warm feeling of alcohol rushing over her and then she’d be passed out in one of the fraternity guys' rooms.  Happened before.  It would happen again.

“But it’s a college party,” Cordelia growled out. “She’s not in college.  She didn’t even finish high school!  Why should they let her in?”

“Cordy, I didn’t bring you to this party so you could bitch and moan about the guest list,” Angel said just loud enough for her to hear over the thumping beat.

“Fine,” she snapped, flashing a brilliant smile at a passing frat boy.  She sauntered behind Angel as he weaved his way through the crowd, letting her fend for herself.  She watched as three, no four, she corrected, little sluts stopped her brother to giggle and flirt with him as he wound his way around the frat house.  He finally stopped inside the kitchen and staggered back a step as a flying female body wrapped around him.  Angel turned with the brunette around his waist, laughing as she pressed against him.

“Faith, this is my little sister, Cordy,” Angel said, tugging playfully at Faith’s long dark locks.  “Cordy, this is my favorite Beer Bitch, Faith.”

Faith grunted in Cordy’s general direction before she leaned in and was whispering in Angel’s ear and tightening her body against his.  Angel laughed and walked her across the room, depositing her on the table by the keg, where she had stack of plastic cups and a marker ready for buyers.

“Later,” he said, allowing his eyes to sweep over her breasts, which spilled from a dangerously low cut black tank.  “But for now I’ll take two,” he said, pulling out his fat money clip and tugging a ten spot from it.  He leaned in close and kissed the side of her neck as he tucked the money into her tight jeans pocket.

“Surprised you’d bring little sister to a kegger, Angel,” Faith said laughing.  “Aren’t you worried about her being molested?”

“Oh Cordy can take care of herself,” Angel chuckled, glancing at his sister as she held her part of the room at bay.

***

Angel made his way to his car at four AM wearily.  He was a first year graduate student and far too fucking old for the kegger shit, but Cordy was determined to go.  He knew what happened to freshman girls at frat parties.  One minute they were prepared for anything and the next they were so fucked up they couldn’t see their own legs above their heads.  Even a viper like Cordy would be in trouble in that sort of environment.  He’d be damned if he’d let anyone take advantage of her.

So he took her to the one place that he knew he could tack a firm message onto the grapevine and let it fly through the lesser miscreants in Academia.  Cordelia Chase was his little sister and he took the time to lower himself to attend a frat party just make sure she was safe.  Angelus Chase was a legend at UCLA.  He didn’t waste his time with keggers when he could have three women in his bed licking champagne off his balls instead.  He knew that his presence at the party would do a great deal of good, but Faith’s flapping gums would do the rest.  Angel grinned.

The frat, affectionately known as the “Alphas” throughout campus, was the only one on campus that allowed non-Greek women and men in their parties.  They also had the most mixed group of students there.  Everyone who didn’t belong somewhere else made their way to those parties and stuffed money in Faith’s waiting hands.  She was known as the Alpha’s mascot and was rumored to have slept with the entire roster.

Angel chuckled at the thought.  That simply wasn’t true. He knew for certain Faith’s selection of men was not limited or defined by the fraternity at all.  She had only slept with half of them at any rate. The other half of her conquests were non-Greeks and townies.  She hated sorority girls and fraternity boys as a rule, but the Alphas were the black sheep of Greek life.  They actually were surprised when they were included in events.

He was half a block from his car when he heard a rustle behind him and turned to see the scrawny Summers girl huddled by the side of a darkened house.  Angel looked around and strangely enough saw that she was completely alone.

“Buffy, right?” he said, pretending he wasn’t sure who she was.  She was shivering in her tank top.  It was a bit too chilly to be out without a sweater or jacket.  “You need a lift home or something?”

“Fuck off,” she slurred, her teeth chattering.  “I can sit here if I want.”

“Sure, but it’s warm in the car instead of freezing your ass off here,” he offered, still trying to be polite instead of leaving her there like she deserved.  “Come on,” he said, reaching out a hand to her.

Glaring, she rose to her feet herself and dusted off before huddling in the cold and following him quickly to his car.  Angelus Chase wasn’t the kind of guy who would be seen with a girl like her.  It wasn’t that he didn’t like trashy girls, he did, but he stayed away from druggies and abusers.  Last thing he needed was some little junkie taking off with his shit.

Buffy slid into his car and curled up in his expensive leather seat.  The car was just as cold as it was outside, but it was comfortable.  Angel smelled really good just like he always did.  His hands were steady as he started the car.  She always watched his hands when she was around him.  Of all the men she knew, he was the first she had a crush on.  She always wondered what it would be like for him to touch her with those big, elegant hands.

She fought to clear her head as she grumbled directions to him.  She didn’t want to go home.  That’s why she was huddled on the side of the house, not that it was any of Angel’s business.  She needed to stay out a little longer so Ethan was good and trashed when she got home.  He would leave her alone if he was drunk enough.

She really thought she had it sealed for tonight.  Graham was a good fuck.  He never hit her, bought her drinks and usually let her stay all night in his big bed.  He was warm and he never did anything she didn’t want him to do.  He never tried to pass her off to his friends or tag team her.  As far as guys went, he was a pretty good one. He didn’t do any drugs, which was his only downfall.  She could handle being without though.  She was good at being without a lot of things.

If it weren’t for his girlfriend dropping in, Buffy would have had a warm place to sleep all night without having to worry about anything.  Stupid bitch, Amy Madison, stormed in like she owned Graham’s cock and started making a huge scene.  It probably wouldn’t have been quite as big of a scene if the cock in question hadn’t been inside Buffy at the time.  Before Buffy could even tell Amy to go fuck herself, Graham was telling Buffy to get dressed and leave.

Growling, she reached into her pocket and felt for money.  She had about fifty-five cents, a cheap bic lighter and nothing else.  She sighed, glancing out the window.

Startled, she gasped, “Keep going, pass it!”

She blew a breath and slumped back against the seat.  Fucker nearly stopped right in front of her house like he was a goddamn valet.  “Just pull around the corner,” she snapped.

“You could have told me you had some guy at home waiting before I stopped in front of your house,” Angel snapped back.

“My stepdad’s a little freaky, alright?  I’m already going to get my ass beat over being drunk.  If he sees you, it’ll be world war fucking three.  Sorry to inconvenience you,” she growled.  She stumbled from the car and stalked off without so much as a glance back in his direction.

***

The house was dark except for the television blaring in the living room.  It reeked of cigarettes and booze as always.  Buffy turned toward the stairs and tiptoed up three before Ethan roared out her name.

“Fuck,” she mumbled, heading back to the living room.  He sat in the recliner with a beer in his hand and some woman Buffy didn’t know was passed out on the couch.  Ethan shot her a feral grin.

“Where the fuck have you been?” he slurred.  He gestured with his long neck bottle angrily.  “If you’ve been out whoring around-“

“I just went over to Spike’s,” Buffy said, interrupting.  “That’s all.  We watched a movie, had some beers.”

“Don’t fucking lie to me,” Ethan shouted, pulling himself to his feet and storming toward her.  “I give you a house to live in and take care of your worthless, whoring ass and you dare lie to me!  Who were you out with?”

The woman on the couch turned over and groaned.  “Stop yelling,” she croaked.  Ethan turned to look back at the woman and was distracted by a bare leg kicking out from the blanket.

“I was with Spike,” Buffy repeated, backing toward the stairs again.  “I’m not lying.”

Buffy turned and hurried up the stairs as the woman started to wake up.  Another close call, she thought as she made it to her room and shut the door.  She turned the lock she had installed herself and leaned against it.  Thank gods for his newest lay.  She saved the whole night.

Her bed was unmade and strewn with her things.  She wasn’t neat, but she hadn’t left this mess.  Ethan had been riffling through her stuff again.  Probably looking for meth.  She snorted.  Like she was going to leave it lying around for him to find.

She shimmied out of her cargo pants and folded them neatly before setting them on the chair by the wall.  She only had two pairs and had to take care of them the best she could.  Clothes were a hard commodity to come by these days.  A lot of things were.

She lay back in bed and closed her eyes.  She always thought of the same thing when she was laying in bed at night – her mother.  Seven years ago when Joyce died suddenly of an aneurism, the world turned upside down and never bothered to right itself.  Before, in the days when she was allowed to be a child, Buffy’s life was filled with warmth and happiness.  The house was clean and sober, the closets were filled with clothes and the refrigerator with food.  She never had to worry about money or being safe or when she was going to have her next meal.  Joyce Rayne made the world a pretty place.

Ethan and Joyce had only been married for six months when she died.  They had still been in their honeymoon phase and were extremely happy. After the funeral, Ethan opened his first beer in front of Buffy and as far as she knew, he hadn’t been sober since.

A rustle at the window caused Buffy to jerk in that direction but relaxed to see Spike climbing inside.  As usual, his movements were graceful and near silent, so as not to attract Ethan's attention.  She didn’t bother to cover up even though she just wore a tank top and panties.  Plopping down on his side next to her, he handed her the cigarette he was smoking.

“Ethan’s on a fucking rampage,” she said, exhaling and handing the butt back to him.  “I told him I’d been with you all night.”

He trailed his fingers over her belly, pushing up the material of her shirt. “Come on, ducks,” he crooned, pulling her more closely to his side.  “You’re not going to turn me away, are you?”

“You gotta go,” she mumbled.  “If he finds you here, he’ll know I lied - not that he doesn’t already suspect you aren’t gay.”

“He’s bangin’ his newest barfly,” Spike muttered, his hand venturing into more dangerous territory.  “Saw him through the window.  He’ll be busy for a while.”

Buffy closed her eyes, letting her hands fall to her side.  It wasn’t worth arguing with Spike.  As much as he covered for her, as much as he took care of her, she owed him.  “You got anything on you?” she asked, longing for oblivion.

Spike dug around in his jacket pocket and tossed a mostly empty prescription bottle onto the bed.  “Oxy,” he said.  “Little rich boy, Percy, traded them to me for blow when he couldn't come up with cash.  Knew you liked it.”

The crushed up narcotic took effect so very quickly and Buffy was falling back into a soft, blissful haze.  She murmured incoherently as Spike blanketed her body with his own.

Buffy turned her head, staring out the window.  She tried to remember the exact timbre of Angel’s voice, the subtle scent of his cologne.  She tried to pretend that it was his beautiful hands roaming across her body, his lips latched onto her nipple.  She tried to make herself believe that it was the man she loved she was with and not a man she owed.

***

“Ghhnrrrmph,” Angel mumbled incoherently into the phone.

“Angel, is that you?”

Shit!  Angel groaned, rolling over onto his back.  “Hi, Mom,” he croaked into the phone.  Dammit, it was Sunday morning.  He knew better than to answer the phone on Sunday morning.

Angel blinked, trying to get his eyes to focus as his mother attempted to guilt him into helping with the soup kitchen.  His mother was big time into charity work and was always attempting to coerce rest of the family into helping out.  She felt a strong sense of obligation to give back to the community, especially since she and her husband were so well off.  The rest of the family didn’t share her sentiments and usually went out of their way to avoid her cajoling.

“Mom, I’m busy today,” he said, interrupting.  “I have a couple of projects that I need to work on for Professor Kerr.”

“Do you really have projects, or are you trying to get out of giving back to the less fortunate?” his mother asked, her voice tight with censure.

“I have projects,” he said, feeling only mildly guilty since they technically weren’t due for another month.

“Well, fine then,” his mother said with a sigh, “I guess that I’ll just do it all by myself.  I mean, I hurt my ankle again last week, but I guess if I ice it enough tonight it should be fine – “

“I’ll come!” Angel snapped, knowing he was being manipulated within an inch of his life.  “I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”  He hung up the phone and could almost hear his mother smiling over the line.

***

In its heyday, the Hyperion had been a very swank little hotel.  Today, after years of sitting vacant and then years of painstakingly slow restoration, it was now open for business as a homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

Angel frowned as he walked down the entryway steps.  He nodded at Jenny, one of the shelter’s administrators, on his way to the kitchen where his mother was undoubtedly directing traffic.  Nights were getting chilly so the shelter was experiencing its seasonal upswing, meaning more work for everyone.

“I don’t get paid enough for this shit!”

Angel stopped and turned around to see a waifish young woman yelling at Jenny, her hair and clothes plastered to her body.  Angel cringed.  The woman was skinny verging on skeletal and he could see her visibly shivering.

“You’re right,” Jenny said, obviously unconcerned.  “You don’t get paid at all because you’re here working off community service hours.  Now go upstairs and ask Fred for some dry clothes and then get back to work.  Next time, turn the water main off before you try and repair the plumbing.”

“This is bullshit,” the young woman cursed under her breath, turning toward Fred’s office.  Angel stopped.  It was Buffy.  When she saw him standing there, she rolled her eyes to ceiling and groaned, “What the hell are you doing here?”

“My mother is on the board of directors for this shelter,” he said, nodding at the kitchen where Jenny had just headed.  “I volunteer when I get conned into it.”

“Volunteer?” she choked, bubbling with sarcastic laughter.  “Whatever.  Go hold down a chair.  I gotta get out of these wet clothes.” She headed for the stairs, stepping around him.

Angel watched her climb up the steps.  She was soaking wet and with the clothes sticking to her slight frame, he realized just how skinny she was.  He shook his head.  She was so drugged up; it was eating her body away.  She looked like she was starving to death.

***

By the end of the day when Buffy’s hours were over, she was starving.  But then, she’d been hungry for days.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had some real food.  Two days?  Three?  The drugs made it hazy, eased the ache of the loneliness and the hunger, but now she’d been sober all day working off the Minor in Possession she’d been charged with the year before.

She thought longingly of the soup and sandwiches at the shelter she was leaving behind.  She cursed inwardly.  Screw that.  She wasn’t about to let anyone know how desperate she was for a warm meal.  Besides, she should be happy she had a home and that she wasn’t sharing one of the Hyperion’s rooms with some stranger.

Shivering, she crossed her arms over her chest.  She had put on her own clothes again rather than wear the hand-me-downs home that Fred had given her.  Her clothes were still damp though and it was making for a colder walk.

When Angel’s sleek black car pulled up beside her in the parking lot, she stopped and faced him, putting her hands on her hips.  “Do I look like a lost fucking puppy to you?” she snapped when he rolled down the window.

“No, you look like you’re freezing in those wet clothes.  Hop in.  I’ll take you home.”

“I can take care of myself,” she said, but still climbed inside.  “I don’t need you treating me like a fucking kid.”

He nodded and said nothing, noticing how she scooted to the edge of the seat so she was closer to the heat vent.  Angel, on the other hand, was burning up.  The car had to be ninety-five degrees by now but she seemed to be glowing just from the warmth, so he left it.

A mile from the shelter, he pulled over at the coffee shop and hopped out, naively leaving the keys in the car behind him.  Stupid, she thought, shaking her head.  She could get an apartment and a year’s supply of shit on this car and he leaves the keys in it.  Course, she would never steal a car for drugs.  Even if she did, she wouldn’t steal from Angel.

Mentally cursing herself, she closed her eyes.  She was not going to make herself believe he actually gave a shit about her.  He was a nice, rich guy, feeling charitable after a day of hell at the Hyperion.  That’s all.

When he came back in, he handed her a large Styrofoam cup.  She looked at his hand as if he had sprouted extra fingers.  Reluctantly, she took it from him and he tossed a paper bag in her lap.  A peek inside had her groaning with delight.  Three chocolate brownies waiting to be devoured sat in the bottom of the bag.

“Oh gods, that’s so fucking good,” she groaned around a mouthful of brownie.  She didn’t bother to ask him if he had bought one of them for himself but gobbled down all three as fast as she could, washing it down with the best hot chocolate she had ever had.

“It’s what fifteen miles from your house to the Hyperion?” he asked quietly, trying to sound casual as she sipped the rest of her cocoa.

“About that,” she grunted.  She risked a glance at him and looked away again.  She was still trying to figure out how a day of working and sweating alongside her made him look no less gorgeous than he had when he walked in that morning.

“And you walk every day in that?” he asked.

“Yeah, so?” she said, glaring over at him.  “My Benz is in the shop and I hate dragging the Rolls out just to toot around town.”

“You go every Saturday and Sunday?”

“Every fucking weekend for the next three months.”

Angel focused his attention back on the road, letting her savor her hot chocolate in peace.  He’d been shocked when he saw her earlier that morning, though in retrospect, he wasn’t sure why.  The shelter had a lot of people volunteering for them to work off community service hours.  It wasn’t exactly a shock that a loser like Buffy Summers was a criminal.

Angel had helped his mom like he promised, but instead of bolting as soon as the meals were being served like he usually did he stuck around.  His mother had been so unabashedly delighted that he couldn’t help but be a bit embarrassed.  Maybe he should help out more.  Angel spent most of the day helping with minor repair work; dry wall patching here, carpet replacement there.  The fact that he’d ended up spending most of the day shadowing Buffy was a coincidence.  Mere coincidence.

He frowned to himself.  Okay, so he’d kept an eye on Buffy most of the day.  He just wanted to make sure she was on the up and up.  Or at least that’s what he told himself.  That’s how he noticed that she hadn’t eaten anything all day.  A reasonable explanation would have been that she was on some drug that killed her appetite.  It made sense.  And that was initially what he thought.  But then when they had been setting up tables and chairs in the converted ballroom that was now a dining room he noticed the longing gazes she gave the rather bland food the shelter was serving.   Angel had forgone lunch himself because the food grossed him out, but Buffy had looked at it like it was manna from heaven.  But she hadn’t eaten, even when people tried to push her into it.  She shrugged off their offers with her usual caustic replies.  Buffy Summers seemed determined to make sure that no one tried more than once to reach out to her.

Angel half expected her to throw the hot chocolate and brownies in his face.  Hell, in truth, he expected her to steal his car.  But she hadn’t.  And she had practically inhaled the food.  Why she would accept help from him when she wouldn’t from anyone else was beyond him.  He glanced over at her.  Her shivering had finally stopped, but her tanktop was woefully inadequate for early Fall.

This time, he cruised past her house and stopped around the corner without being told.  As the car came to a stop, Buffy didn’t immediately hop out.  She looked toward her house, dread written on her face.  Sighing, she reached for the handle.

On impulse, Angel reached into the back seat and grabbed his jacket.  “Here,” he said, handing it to her.

She looked at him warily for a moment and then shrugged, throwing on the jacket, which was much too large for her.  She left the car without so much as a thank you.

Angel watched her trudging steps down the sidewalk for several moments before he pulled away.  Buffy Summers was a fascinating contradiction in terms.  But not fascinating in any sort of sexual way, Angel quickly assured himself.  She was intriguing in a school project sort of way.  Yeah.  That was it.  And he most certainly hadn’t noticed that despite her emaciated frame, she still had a pair of the nicest tits he’d ever seen.

***

Buffy finally heard Angel pull away and she wrapped the jacket tighter around her body.  It was huge, hanging almost to her knees.  It made her feel safe.  Buffy burrowed into the coat, inhaling deeply.  It smelled like Angel.

Ethan’s car was gone and the house looked empty.  As glad as she was that there was no one there to bug her, she couldn’t stand the thought of being alone.  Wrapping Angel’s jacket protectively around her, with her belly full and warmth around her, she headed down the street and back around the corner.

It was only a mile to Spike’s house and Buffy was soon slipping through door to his seedy little basement apartment.  He was lying on the couch looking dazed out of his mind as he flipped through the channels.

“Buffy,” he said after a moment, noticing her arrival only after she carefully hung up Angel’s jacket and curled up at the end of the couch.  “Glad you stopped by,” Spike said, holding out his arms to her, “been thinking about you.”

She crawled up and straddled his lap, smiling down at him.  She liked Spike.  He was the only guy in the world who treated her like a person – a person with tits and ass that he always wanted to fondle, but a person nonetheless.  Grinning, he pulled a little baggie out of his pocket and shook it, grinning.

“Want some candy, little girl?” he asked.  She rubbed her crotch against his and smiled back.  He groaned like the easy sell he was and handed it over, already tugging at her shirt.

“Spike…” Buffy started, pulling back slightly.  She looked at the bag to Spike and back again.  She liked to think of him as her friend with benefits, not as one of her suppliers.  She liked to think he was her safe haven, her escape from the rest of the world, not the guy she fucked for drugs.

“Quickie,” he suggested with a wink as if she didn’t owe him, “and then we can watch ‘The Princess Bride.’  I rented it just for you.”

Caving, she smiled happily and opened the bag.  She was right the first time.  Spike was her friend.

***

Despite the fact that he was in a position to be nothing more than a lazy, spoiled brat, Angel really made an effort to do something with his life.  His family had money.  A lot of money.  And he could have simply slacked off if he wanted.  But it wasn’t his style, never had been.  So it really wasn’t that odd that he was up at six on a Saturday morning.  The fact that he was headed toward the shelter to volunteer for the day, however, was odd.

Angel didn’t share his mother’s guilt over their socioeconomic position.  Sure, they had a lot, but he worked hard.  He’d pulled a 3.8 GPA all through college, even with a double major in art history and finance.  He’d chosen to stay in L.A. for graduate school even though his GRE scores could have gotten him into any number of prestigious colleges.  In addition to his studies, he worked as a teaching assistant for Professor Kerr.  As a rule, he didn’t feel the need to give back to the community in some sort of penance for the fact that his parents had been successful.  Or at least he usually didn’t.  But he remembered how happy his mother had been last week when he helped out.  Yeah.  It was all for his mom.

Angel was still telling himself that as he slowed the car down to a creeping pace and rolled down the window.  “Get in.”

Buffy turned toward him and gave him a look of irritation, but wordlessly walked around the car and climbed in.  She was still wrapped, Angel noted, in his coat.  He wasn’t sure what to think about that.  As she clicked her seatbelt shut, Angel handed her a cup of coffee and a bag of donuts.  “And don’t eat them all,” he warned.  “I want one.”

She gobbled down the first one in seconds, moaning happily.  They were still warm and the glaze was melting in her mouth.  The scent of the freshly baked goods wafted across the car.  Angel’s stomach rumbled loudly and she grinned in response, which made his mouth drop open.

He glanced over at her and was shocked to see her removing her seatbelt and sliding across the bench seat with her sticky fingers inside the bag of donuts.  She tore off a little piece and pushed it into his mouth.  Kneeling in the seat next to him, she alternated, feeding them each pieces of the donuts until they were gone.  She licked the icing off of her fingers and seemed strangely happy.  Groaning, she lay back in the seat with her head on his thigh and sighed.

Angel had slowed down, driving as slow as possible as she fed them, stunned by her utter delight in the paltry gift of donuts and coffee.  It seemed suddenly incredibly sad that that was all it took to put a smile on her face.

He cupped her cheek, caressing her as she nuzzled his thigh and neither said a word.  He wanted to say a lot of things.  He wanted to ask her why she had chosen to be the way she was and why she didn’t change things, why she lived with her loser stepfather and why she put all those harmful drugs in her body, but he didn’t want to ruin the moment.

“We’re there,” he said quietly, turning off the car.  Startled, Buffy sat up and looked around.  The Hyperion, the black soul-sucking place of wasted weekends, stood hovering over them.  The scowl immediately returned to her face as she got out of the car.

“Try not to take the door off the hinges,” Angel said when she slammed the door.

“Fuck off,” she spat, stomping toward the hotel.  “It’s not like it means anything to you.”

“And you’re welcome,” he growled as he followed her into the lobby.

“Bite me,” she rejoined before turning her fury on Jenny, who stood looking composed as always, waiting patiently to give Buffy her instructions for the morning.

***

“Linds, find another assistant,” Angel said, watching both he and Buffy suspiciously.

Lindsey looked up, highly irritated and opened his mouth.  Angel cut him off, staring at Buffy.  “Let’s go,” he said, turning and leaving the room in which Buffy and Lindsey were painting.

In any other situation, Buffy would have mouthed off, but she wasn’t about to complain about having to spend time with Angel.  Lindsey was some froo froo attorney working off a DUI by volunteering at the shelter.  He was cute and exactly the kind of guy she would usually try and cozy up to, the kind that had lots of disposable income.  But there was something about Lindsey, something that told her he didn’t like looking at her; that looking at her was too much like looking in a mirror. Wiping her hands off on a rag, she left the room.

She found Angel in the parking lot, climbing into one of the ratty old trucks that the shelter owned.  She climbed into the cab.  “What are we doing?”

“Going to pick up lumber,” he said.

She didn’t reply.  She was shocked, however, when he pulled into a fast food place and asked her what she wanted.  When the girl at the window handed them their food, Buffy quickly scarfed hers down.  Chewing around a mouthful of food, she asked, “You know Lindsey?”

“I know him,” Angel grunted.  “Our fathers are friends.  We were pretty good friends once.  Not so much anymore.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a long story,” Angel sighed.  “The way he chooses to lead his life and the way I choose to lead mine doesn’t mesh.”

“Oh,” she said thoughtfully, stuffing more food in her mouth.  She hadn’t had two significant meals like this in one day in so long that she was shocked when she realized her hands had stopped shaking.  Hell, she felt almost healthy.

When Buffy finished her own food, she sipped her drink and casually stole Angel’s fries when she thought he wasn’t looking.  Strangely, it struck him as amusing.  He whistled a tune when he loaded the lumber, watching Buffy out of the corner of his eye.

A girl who looked almost ugly a week ago seemed more attractive to him this afternoon, drowning in the black leather of his jacket while she carried the lumber to the truck without complaint.  Her braided blonde hair in the sunshine, her face flush with her exertions and a full stomach, made her look almost beautiful.  He didn’t even notice the scar across her lips.

He did, however, notice a nasty bruise along the nape of her neck.  Her thick braid went a long way towards obscuring it, but when she turned quickly, the braid would swing, revealing the large, unsightly welt.  Angel tried to look without being too conspicuous.  He couldn't be certain, but it looked a hell of a lot like someone had grabbed the back of her neck with a great deal of force.  Angel couldn't help but remember that first night he took her home.

My stepdad’s a little freaky, alright?  I’m already going to get my ass beat over being drunk.  If he sees you, it’ll be world war fucking three.

At the time, Angel thought she was just being caustic, just being a bitch.  But looking at the nasty bruise, he began to reevaluate his first impression.  It sure as hell looked like someone had gotten a hold on her.  Maybe it was her stepfather.  He shook the thought off.  For all he knew, it was some guy that she fucked for drugs and they both liked it rough.  Maybe she forgot the safe word.  That wouldn't shock him.  Buffy Summers was known as the "up for anything" girl around town.  But the more he tried to convince himself of that, the more he thought back to all the times his mom made him volunteer at the battered women's shelter when he was younger.  He remembered the bleak, vacant look in the eyes of those women, in the eyes of their abused children.  When Buffy thought no one was looking, she had that same expression.  Angel cursed himself for not noticing sooner.

"Plans tonight?" Angel asked later as they were unloading the lumber at the shelter.

Buffy shrugged.  "Heard there's a party over at the Outhouse."

Angel almost cringed.  The Outhouse was aptly named.  The place was a shithole.  It was off campus in a very seedy part of town, a BYO place that was routinely shut down for having underage strippers and lots of drug traffic.  A lot of the campus Greeks liked to go slumming there for kicks.  It was a rough place.  Angel would murder a dozen people before he allowed Cordy to go somewhere like that and the thought that Buffy would so casually consider going turned his blood cold.

Logically, he realized that he couldn’t stop her from going back there, just like he knew he couldn’t stop her stepfather from putting those bruises on her.  He knew that if he thought of a way to keep her from that hell for one night, she’d probably just end up back there another night, but it just kept nagging at him for the rest of the day.  Those blitzed fucks pawed at any chick they came across.  Angel didn’t have any claim on Buffy, nor did he want to join in anything other than friendship with her.  That didn’t change the funny feeling gnawing at his gut.

At the end of the day as he was driving her home, he looked casually over to where she was curled up in the seat.  “I rented a couple of DVDs last week and I didn’t have time to watch them,” he said quietly, keeping his eyes on the road.  “I was knocking around the idea of ordering a pizza and checking them out tonight.”

“Sounds cozy,” she muttered tiredly.  She hadn’t sat down with a movie and a pizza that innocently since her mother had died.  Anytime she ever saw a movie these days it was when she was with Spike and half out of her mind on whatever he supplied her with that night.

“I don’t really like watching movies by myself,” he added after a moment of silence. “Feel like vegging at my place for a little while?”

“Your place?” she echoed, turning to look at him with her eyes wide.  She couldn’t even imagine seeing the place where he lived, hanging out casually with Angel Chase like they were friends.

“Sure,” he said, moving his rearview mirror a notch just to have something to do.  “Why not?”

“Sure,” she echoed quietly, gazing back out of the window. Her throat was suddenly very dry and her stomach was knotted up.  It felt like some kind of strange sign that she would have three meals in one day, all with Angel, one in Angel’s home.

She was used to going home with guys and letting them have their way with her under the guise of partying or some other form of entertainment.  Idly, she wondered if Angel would want her to fuck him.  She would if he wanted.  She was sure of that, even without the pizza, but she knew he probably wouldn’t even touch her.  Girls like Buffy Summers didn’t get that lucky.

***

Angel left Buffy alone in his living room with more than a little trepidation.  She was completely capable of stealing from him, he believed that wholeheartedly.  But he had to take care of a few things in private.  The first was a phone call to Doyle, canceling their plans for the evening, the second a call to Darla telling her that he was going to be out of town, so she didn't spontaneously decide to show up at his apartment.  Angel didn't know why he felt the need to be nice to Buffy, but he didn't want it getting around that they were hanging out together.  No one would believe that he was letting Buffy crash at his place without fucking her.  That was simply what a guy of his class did with her, the only purpose she served.  But Angel couldn't think of anything more distasteful than taking advantage of someone in her situation.

Buffy ate half the pizza, which made Angel feel better about his decision to invite her over.  That good feeling was compounded when she asked him if he had anything to drink and he told her it was in the fridge.  A minute later, she curled up on the far end of the couch with a soda rather than a beer.  He deliberately left the decision up to her, wanting to see what she would do.  Years ago, he wrote Buffy off as nothing more than a morally bankrupt druggie.  That was when he started seeing her around campus parties.  She couldn't have been anymore than fifteen or sixteen at the time and she already looked worn out.  Every time he'd ever gotten a glimpse of her, she was blitzed out of her mind on alcohol or drugs, curled up with any warm body she could find.

But every time he'd seen her now, with the exception of that first night that he gave her a ride home, she'd been stone sober.  And cold.  And starving.  And bruised.  Weren't drugs the ultimate escapism?  It looked like Buffy Summers had a whole lot to escape.

Buffy was snoring softly fifteen minutes into the second movie.  She was curled up into a tiny little ball, huddling under his jacket.  Frowning, Angel went and pulled an extra blanket out of the closet and draped it over her.  He finished watching the movie, which was truly horrid.  Buffy was out cold, drooling on the arm of his couch.  Angel couldn't help but smile.  Quietly, he cleaned up the pizza box and empty soda cans.  For a minute, he toyed with the idea of kicking her out.  But where would she go?  Home so her bastard of a stepfather would beat the shit out of her and do god only knew what else?  Or maybe hit an after hours party, get drugged up and go home with some stranger?  No.  She could sleep on his couch.  And if Angel woke up to find everything in his living room missing, he would write her off without a second thought.

***

Angel wasn't a light sleeper.  He had two different alarm clocks and a special ringer on his cell phone in order to get out of bed on time in the mornings.  But something - maybe the knowledge that there was a convicted criminal sleeping in his living room - woke him.  There were strange noises coming from the living room and soft cursing.  It sounded like someone was attempting to be quiet and failing miserably.

That useless little whore, he swore to himself.  After everything he did, she was trying to rob him blind.  Cursing himself, Angel pulled on a pair of sweat pants and yanked open his bedroom door.  He stopped short to find Buffy standing in the middle of his hallway, illuminated by the kitchen light.  It wasn't the fact that she was standing there; it was the fact that she was standing there wearing nothing but his coat.  And he did mean nothing.  The coat wasn't buttoned and he could see the bare curve of her breast; catch a glimpse of the shadowed triangle between her legs.  The thick braid she usually wore was undone.  It was obvious she had brushed her hair out because it was a mass of silky blonde waves that fell almost to her waist.  The golden tresses contrasted sharply with the black leather of his coat in a very appealing manner.  She looked soft and sleep-rumpled.

He looked away shaking his head.  "It's four in the morning," he said, his voice a rumbling growl, scratchy from sleep.

She stared at the floor, wrapping the coat more tightly around her body.  "I was trying not to wake you up," she said shortly.  "I just wanted to do a load of laundry."

Angel didn't even know what to say to that.  Yeah, she had to work at the shelter tomorrow and she obviously wasn't planning to go home.  She needed clean clothes.  He supposed it wasn't any big deal if she wanted to use the small, stacked washer and dryer in his hall closet.  He shrugged.  "The detergent and stuff is under the sink," he said before turning around and heading back to bed.

***

Buffy waited, standing still in the hallway until he was safely in his room and then let out the breath she had been holding.  She tiptoed to the kitchen and leaned against the counter for a second, holding the coat around her body.  Seeing Angel in the middle of the night, bare-chested and rumpled from sleep was an amazing sight.  He was a god, just like she always knew he was and she couldn’t help but notice the way his dark eyes raked her body.  What would he have done if she had slipped off the coat and offered herself to him?

Shaking her head, she found the laundry detergent and fabric softener under the sink.  She hefted them out and noted that they were almost full and name brand.  What a luxury to have them there, being able to use the exact amount suggested instead of halving it so it would last longer.

Angel didn’t know how fortunate he was to have everything he wanted at the tips of his beautiful fingers.  She knew he felt sorry for her and was fairly certain he didn’t even like her.  He thought she was a druggie whore just like everyone else.  The sad part about it was that it was true.  She was a useless tramp who traded her body for anything to make the aching pain of life go away.  That knowledge was the only thing that kept her from giving her body to him.  She knew he wouldn’t take it and it made her feel sick.  The only man she would ever love thought she was a whore.

She went back to the couch and curled up under the blanket he had given her, waiting for the washing cycle to end.  Everything smelled like him.  It made her want to hold her breath, just to keep him inside.  She was so nervous that she would mess something up, that she would make him mad and he’d kick her out or not bring her back.

She dozed off but woke a little later and changed the laundry, only to find that Angel had left a load of clothes in the dryer.  Almost giddily, she reached in and pulled out his clothes like a little girl in a candy store.  The load was mostly t-shirts and boxers, but she folded them all carefully, placing them in neat little piles.  She couldn’t help but note that everything looked almost new.  Nothing was torn or frayed.  It was nothing like her limited wardrobe.

When she was finished folding his laundry, she put her clothes in the dryer.  She looked around guiltily before snagging a pair of his black silk boxers and a white t-shirt.  Still struggling to be as quiet as possible, she went into the bathroom and showered, reveling in using his shampoo and drying her body off with his thick, fluffy towels.

She finger combed her hair still wearing his burgundy towel.  She remembered how her mother always kept fresh towels stacked in the linen closet and how she put them in the ragbag for cleaning day whenever they started to fray.  She missed having something as simple as fresh towels at her disposal.  Now she washed them and horded one or two in her dresser like stolen booty so Ethan couldn’t use them.

She slipped into his boxers and t-shirt.  The t-shirt fell almost to her knees, covering the boxers completely.  She felt safe in them, completely covered for the first time in a long time.  As she snuck back out to the couch and snuggled back under the blanket, she knew she would keep them if he didn’t take them away.

***

They weren't supposed to be at the shelter until eight, but Angel was up at six.  Buffy's clothes were still tumbling in the dryer, but there were only a few minutes left before the buzzer would sound.  Angel decided against waking her up, figuring the dryer would take care of it.

He glanced out into the living room, noticing one bare leg peeking out.  She wasn't completely covered by the blanket and he rolled his eyes and sighed as he realized that she had commandeered a pair of his boxers and a t-shirt.  At least her thievery was completely out in the open.  If he wanted, he knew he could demand the items back, but he also knew that he wouldn't.  Taking something in plain view seemed to be Buffy's way of asking.  She could never voice any desires, but she took what she wanted, giving him the opportunity to take it back.

He was frowning as he closed the bathroom door.  Buffy was Cordy's age.  Angel had vague memories of the girls playing together as small children.  He thought about how over-protective he was of his sister, of the life she lived.  Cordy got anything she wanted - within reason.  Clothes, food, a car, a loving family - all of it was given to Cordelia without a thought.  Buffy didn't have any of those things.  And more than that, it seemed completely beyond her to figure out how to go about getting them - save trading her body.  It was so damn heartbreaking.

Angel shaved in the shower and was done in short order.  When he opened the bathroom door, the bath towel secured around his hips, he saw Buffy lacing up her boots in the living room.  She was once again dressed her own clothes, her hair in its customary severe braid.  Angel quickly glanced at the top of the washer where she had stacked his clothes from the dryer.  The t-shirt and boxers weren't in the pile.  He did notice that the pocket on his leather jacket was bulging, no doubt from a folded up t-shirt and pair of boxers.  He didn't even bother saying anything as he went to his room.

She wasn't in the living room when he finally left his room.  Angel could hear rummaging noises coming from the kitchen and part of him wondered if this was it.  Was this when Buffy would finally show her true colors and he'd catch her trying to steal something?  Turning the corner, he found her in the midst of trying to climb up on his countertop.

He looked at her and she looked back at him.  She frowned, dropping back down to the floor.  "I can't reach the coffee filters," she snapped, pointing to the top shelf.

Angel rolled his eyes at her waspish good morning but easily plucked the filters down for her.  "Do you need help?" he asked.

"No," she countered snottily.  "I may not have graduated from high school, but I think I can figure out a goddamn coffee maker.

"Have at it," Angel said, leaving her to the coffee as he headed over to the fridge and began rummaging.

Buffy straightened her spine as she turned back to the coffee maker.  She quickly resented her crabby statement.  A fucking NASA scientist couldn't figure out this goddamn coffee maker.  She opened the compartment and read the buttons trying to figure out what to do.

Angel let her struggle for five full minutes before he walked over and flipped open the top.  He carefully inserted a coffee filter and then measured the correct amount of grounds.  Then, in a move she never would have considered, he took the entire back half of the coffee maker off and filled it with water before replacing it and pushing the power button.  She snorted in disgust.  That wasn't intuitive at all.

Turning his head, Angel looked at her, his expression perfectly dry.  "Took me two weeks to figure out how to use it," he said.  He looked away before she could respond.  "Well," he said, pulling the refrigerator open, "it appears we have cold pizza or … cold pizza."

***

Once at the shelter, Buffy and Angel parted ways without a word and began working.  They didn’t even speak to each other until lunch when Angel found her, once again, helping a man.  This time it wasn’t Lindsey though, it was Gunn.  He was a former street kid who grew up and made his way out from the bottom.  He owned a private investigation firm now that focused on the back street cases the cops normally didn’t care about and he volunteered his time a couple of times a month.

Angel liked him, but he didn’t like the way Gunn and Buffy were laughing jovially together when he walked into the room.  The light in her eyes, the pep in her movements irritated him.

“Buffy,” he snapped as he leaned in the doorway.  After a curt nod to Gunn, he continued, “Got to pick up some stuff from an old lady downtown.  Let’s go.”

“See ya, Gunn,” Buffy said, still chuckling from his last joke, unperturbed by Angel’s obvious displeasure.  She went out to where Angel was already starting the truck and he nearly peeled away from the curb before she managed to put on her seatbelt.

“Burgers or tacos?” he managed to grunt out as they headed toward downtown in the shelter’s rambling old truck.  He hadn’t said a word since they left and she was beginning to wonder what he was so angry about.

“Burgers,” she said, her mouth watering already when she thought of all those fries she’d have to herself.

“We had burgers yesterday,” he growled, but pulled into the burger place down the street.

“Well, if you want fucking tacos,” she snapped back, “then why did you even ask?”

“I don’t want tacos,” he groused.  The drive-thru line was long and he pouted most of the way through it.

“Wanna hear the joke Gunn told me?” she asked finally, still bubbling from laughter.  Angel grunted in response, but she was so excited at the prospect of telling a joke that he began to lighten up as she carefully laid out the set up for it and when the punch line came, she fell into a infectious laughter that had him laughing too.  She wiped tears from her eyes as she finished chuckling.

When they reached the window and received their food, Buffy immediately stuffed a fry into her mouth, humming in happiness around it.  “I love this shit,” she announced.  She began doling out the burgers and fries from the greasy bag then snagged a fry from her own container and fed it to him.

It was the smallest thing in the world, but Angel was so touched he could barely swallow.  He had never seen Buffy give up something that she thought was hers, unless, of course, it was her body.  He chewed the fry, swallowing thickly.  "Thanks," he said softly.

She smiled at him, not one of her nasty, snide smirks, but a real smile.  "You're welcome," she replied before turning her attention back to her food.

***

The rest of the day passed without much incident.  When it came time to leave, Angel found Buffy quietly waiting for him, leaning against the wall by the front door.  As he stepped outside, she followed him to the car, climbing inside.

He automatically turned the car toward his apartment rather than her house.  Buffy didn't seem to think this was anything out of the ordinary.  Angel sat there in silence wondering if he had indeed gone completely insane.  That was really the only option.  He didn't do things like this.  He didn't believe in the basic goodness of humanity, he didn't think people could change and he didn't feel it was his responsibility to help anyone other than himself or possibly his family members.

But yet, here he was.  He cleared his throat.  "I have to head up to campus," he said.  "I got a call this afternoon.  Professor Kerr, my boss, is presenting a paper at a conference in Chicago next week and the T.A. that was supposed to go got sick, so I'm up."

Buffy stiffened in her seat.  She'd been waiting on this, knowing her good luck was bound to run out any second.  She had to hand it to Angel; at least he managed to come up with some excuse, however lame it was.  Most guys wouldn't bother.  "No big," she said.  "Just drop me at the edge of campus.  Spike only lives a few miles from here.  I can crash with him."

Spike.  Angel suppressed a growl.  He knew Spike.  Everyone knew Spike.  If you ever wanted anything, Spike was the guy to see.  He was a piece of lowlife scum at least ten years older than Angel himself - too fucking old for Buffy.  And Angel had no doubt what exactly would happen if Buffy went to Spike's place.

"Would you let me finish, please?" Angel said, glancing over at Buffy.

She nodded almost imperceptibly.

He reached in his pocket, removing a key he held out to Buffy.  "It's to my apartment," he said.  She immediately reached for it and he pulled the key away for a moment.  "For you," he said, stressing the word.  "I have to run up to campus now, but I'll be home in a few hours.  You can stay or you can go, but if you stay, absolutely no company and no drugs."

Buffy was quiet, eyeing him warily.  "And while you're gone next week?" she asked.

Angel took a deep breath.  He was a sucker and he knew it.  "You can stay if you want."

She swiped the key out of his hand.  "Deal."

Angel handed Buffy a twenty-dollar bill with orders to have some food delivered before he dropped her off in front of his apartment building.

***

Buffy was floored; unable to believe Angel would trust her enough to let her stay at his place without him present.  She felt like it was some kind of test, which should have pissed her off, but for some reason, it didn’t.  As soon as she got inside the apartment, she dialed the sub place and had sandwiches delivered.  She’d already eaten hers and watched half of some horrible made for TV movie before Angel finally returned home.  His arms were loaded with files and he looked frazzled and irritated.  Buffy decided to stay out of his way.

She curled up in the corner of the couch, pretending to be absorbed by the TV.  In truth, she watched him pick at his sandwich between making phone calls, reading files and haphazardly throwing things in his suitcase.

“Night,” he called before shutting his bedroom door.

Buffy left the TV on, but all of her attention was focused on the light creeping out from under his bedroom door.  “Thank you, Angel,” she whispered.

***

Still unbelievably tired, Buffy nevertheless rolled over onto her side and watched Angel hurry around the apartment, finishing up last minute packing.  He was still trying to read those damn files while he juggled toiletries and socks.  It wasn’t even five in the morning yet, but he’d told Buffy his flight was at eight.

Apparently convinced that he was done packing, Angel stopped and took a breath.  He walked over to the couch where Buffy was watching him silently.  He crouched down in front of her and held out a couple of folded twenty-dollar bills.  “For food,” he said, frowning.

Buffy nodded, snatching the money away.

He shook his head, turning to grab his suitcase.  “And be good,” he tacked on.

***

Buffy felt strange staying in Angel’s apartment by herself while he was gone.  That’s not to say that she wasn’t in hog heaven.  Monday night, she just rattled around the apartment, looking at things and showing interest in what she wouldn’t have dared admire with him watching.  She even ventured into his bedroom.  She didn’t touch anything.  She just looked around, sating her curiosity.

On the second night, she staked out her own house and waited until Ethan went to the bar to grab her extra pair of cargo pants, a few pairs of her panties and her two spare tank tops.  She didn’t want to risk coming back again for a while.  She knew when she did; Ethan would tear her to pieces.  He always flew into a rage when she was gone more than a few days.  The last time that happened, he beat her so severely that Spike found her in her bedroom, lying in her own blood.

After she dropped off the clothes at Angel’s place, she was restless.  Without Angel around, she was bored senseless.  She didn’t have a job or a place to go.  From the look on Angel’s face the other night, he wasn’t too keen on her spending her spare time with Spike.  Actually, considering she had been sober for longer than she could remember she wasn’t too anxious to ruin it by seeing her friend either.  She already knew he’d probably be wondering where the fuck she was.  She didn’t want to explain Angel to him.  Spike wouldn’t understand what was going on and to tell the truth, she wasn’t sure she did.  She did, however, know a good thing.  She wasn’t going to fuck it up.

Stretching, she headed out the door after first making sure the key to Angel’s apartment was securely placed in the jacket’s inner pocket.  She turned off all the lights and locked the door, feeling oddly responsible.  Her house hadn’t been locked since her mother died.  There wasn’t a reason.  There was nothing there worth stealing and anyone who was stupid enough to walk through the door deserved what they got.

She headed over to campus and strolled around the grounds.  She loved the campus and often walked there at night when she was prowling for a guy or just needing to get away.  Sometimes she dreamed that she was one of the students, just heading to a class or maybe meeting friends for lunch.  Not that she liked school.  She fucking hated school.  Of course, that really wasn’t the point.

Finally, after awhile of wandering around the quad, she headed for the Alpha house.  Even though it was only a Tuesday night, she knew the guys would probably be hanging out and drinking beer.  They certainly weren’t the types to absorb the knowledge.

“Watch where you’re going! God!” Cordelia demanded, breaking Buffy out of her thoughts.  She moved aside and was preparing to shoot back an insult in passing, when Cordy stopped walking and turned around to face her.

“What’re you looking at?” Buffy grouched, stepping back from Angel’s sister’s scrutiny.

“Is that my brother’s jacket?” Cordelia shouted, pulling Buffy forward by the lapels.  She pulled open the coat and looked on the side fold, as if his name would be imprinted there.  It wasn’t.  Buffy knew every inch of the garment.

“No,” Buffy snarled, pulling away.  “Get the fuck off me.”

“Oh yes it is,” Cordy snapped back, keeping a hold on the leather with all of her might.  “I dripped fingernail polish on it a year ago.  This is Angel’s jacket, you thieving whore!”

“I didn’t steal it,” Buffy mumbled, halfheartedly trying to pull away.

“Oh, and you expect me to believe that a guy like Angel gave a girl like you a leather jacket?” she snorted incredulously.  “Yeah, right.  Take it off or I’ll call the cops.”

Buffy gripped the jacket with white knuckled hands.  She couldn’t give it up.  She’d give Cordy her clothes before she let the jacket out of her sight.  “No,” Buffy said, practically pleading.  “I didn’t steal it, Cordelia.”

Growling, Cordelia pulled out her cell phone and was preparing to dial when Buffy pulled the jacket off and handed it over.  Snatching it away, Cordy headed back in the direction of her car, shoving the phone back into her designer purse.

Buffy stood there with tear filled eyes and watched her until she drove away.  Suddenly, she shoved her hands in her pants pockets and cried out in distress.  The key to Angel’s apartment was tucked securely in the inside pocket of the coat that was driving away in Cordy’s car.  She stumbled to the side and sat down in front of a tree, pulling her knees up to her chest.  She lowered her face to her knees and sobbed.  He was going to be gone two more days and she had nowhere to go but back down.

***

Buffy trudged slowly down the street, her hands shoved in the pockets of her cargo pants, shivering.  It wasn’t exactly freezing out, but it was windy and her threadbare tanktop wasn’t exactly suitable attire for the time of year.

Right now, her choices were pretty limited.  She could keep her earlier plan and head over to the Alpha frat, but even as she thought about it, she crossed it off her mental list.  Before the Cordy incident, she’d been planning to just hang out, waste a little time.  Now she’d be looking for someone to hook up with, somewhere to stay.  While she personally didn’t see anything wrong with that scenario, she knew Angel would be pissed.  She wasn’t sure why, but she knew he would.  Same for Spike’s place.

She could go home, but she wasn’t really up to going twelve rounds with Ethan at the moment.  That left one last option.  Dammit.

***

Buffy was trying to be quiet, but she’d kept the lights off and as a consequence hadn’t seen the two by four in the middle of the room.  Half the Hyperion had probably heard the racket she made.

She pulled her bic out, using the meager light to search for the drop cloths she knew had been there last weekend when she was painting with Lindsey.  She found it and tried to fold it into some sort of pallet.  The thought of sleeping on the dusty bare floor made her long for Angel’s couch.  She couldn’t remember ever sleeping as well as she did at his place.  She felt safe there, and warm and comfortable.

Just then, the bare, overhead light flipped on.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Buffy stood up straight, twisting around.  It was Trevor, the cranky old security guard.  “Nothing,” she snapped.

“These rooms are off limits.  Let’s go.”

Buffy rolled her eyes, but knew better than to argue.  She preceded Trevor down the hall and back into the lobby where Jenny was sitting at the front desk.

“Found her trying to steal some stuff out of one of the rooms,” he said.

“I wasn’t stealing shit, old man!” Buffy yelled.

“Hey, hey,” Jenny interrupted.  She turned and looked at the security guard.  “It’s fine, Trevor.”

“Want me to call the cops?” he asked.

“No,” Jenny said firmly.  “It’s fine.  You can go.”  Trevor nearly snarled at Buffy, but finally turned and left.

Buffy looked at Jenny.  “You’re not calling the cops?”

Jenny stared at her speculatively.  “No.”

“Then I’m outta here,” Buffy said, turning on her heel.

Jenny watched the girl go, shaking her head.  On impulse, she walked down to the room where Trevor had found Buffy.  She saw the makeshift bed in the corner.  “Dammit,” she cursed.

***

It was late and getting colder.  Buffy took some of her carefully hoarded cash that Angel had left and caught a bus back to her shitty neighborhood.  Maybe Ethan would already be passed out.

Buffy didn’t want to get off that bus, but she did.  The lights were on at the house and Buffy peeked inside a few of the windows.  Ethan never bothered to close the curtains.  She grimaced at the sight of him and some nasty old skank going at it on the couch.  At least she could sneak upstairs without being seen.

She groaned as she looked at her bedroom door.  The doorframe was splintered.  Guess Ethan didn’t like her lock.  “Fuck,” she muttered, flipping on the light.  Her room was trashed.  Ethan was such a fucking asshole.  Buffy didn’t know why he even bothered messing with her shit.  It wasn’t like she had anything nice anyway.

Buffy closed the door, bracing a chair against the doorknob.  It wasn’t as good as a lock, but it would give her a heads up if Ethan decided to come visit.  She didn’t take off her clothes, falling onto the mattress fully dressed.  She knew she might have to make a run for it and she didn’t want to do it in the nude.

***

Buffy jolted awake at the sound of Ethan slamming his body against her bedroom door.  The frame had taken quite a beating from nights like this when he was totally out of his mind.  She scrambled from her bed and went to the window.

“Open this godamn door!” Ethan shouted. Even as the words came out of his mouth, the chair splintered and Buffy hurried to the window and slid out.  She was running before she hit the ground, scrambling to get away.  She heard him shouting behind her as she made her way down the street, but she didn’t turn around.  She just kept running.

She made her way to the only place she knew she’d be relatively safe – Spike’s place.  She knew Angel would be angry with her for going there, but she was out of options.  She was out of breath and panting when she reached his door, but even over her own labored breathing, she heard a woman’s cry of pleasure through the wood and Spike’s lower grunts.  Tears filled her eyes as she slammed her back against the wall outside of his dingy apartment.  Spike would have kittens if she interrupted him now.

“Fuck,” she muttered under her breath wiping the tears away with the back of her hand.  How could she let Angel give her some hope of turning things around?  How could she believe for one second that she would have a safe place to sleep and food in her belly without having to sell herself?

Turning, dejected and hopeless, she left the apartment building and headed back out onto the street.  Clenching her fists, she headed for the Outhouse.  It always had something going on and maybe she could find a place to crash for the night.  The idea of fucking some guy for the use of his bed wasn’t new, but it still wasn’t inviting.

When Angel came home, she knew he wouldn’t forgive her.  She had managed, within a couple of short hours, to fuck everything up beyond all recognition, but that was no different from any other day.  She reached into her pocket and clutched what was left of the money he gave her.  It was all she had left of him and it was only paper.

***

Angel made his way home late Thursday night exhausted from having to cram in everything that the other student had been preparing for weeks.  He was glad that it had been a success, but he hadn’t had time to do any of his studies for the regular classes he had been missing, which meant he wasn’t going to be able to work with Buffy at the shelter over the weekend.

He was surprised that the apartment was dark when he got home, but it was late.  He tiptoed to the couch to see that Buffy wasn’t there and immediately flipped on the lights.  All of Buffy’s meager belongings were folded and stacked neatly under the end table, including his t-shirt and boxer shorts.

His leather jacket was tossed over the back of the couch and he stared at it in confusion.  Buffy hadn’t let it out of her sight since he’d given it to her.  He couldn’t imagine why she would have left without it.

His answering machine was blinking.  He sorted through messages from Doyle, who needed a place to crash later in the week, Darla, who was wondering if he had moved to another country, one from his mother and the last from his sister whose voice blared into the room.  “I let myself in and dropped off your jacket,” Cordy’s terse voice explained.  “I found that skank, Buffy Summers, wearing it around campus.  I can’t believe that little bitch stole from you!  Call me the second you get back.”

Running his hand through his hair, he crossed the room and searched through the jacket.  It didn’t take long to find the apartment key in the pocket.  “Son of a bitch,” he growled, throwing it over his arm and heading back out of the apartment.  He hopped in the car and dialed Cordelia, who ranted and raved for the whole ride over to Spike’s place.

“She didn’t steal it from me, Cordy,” he finally explained when he was able to get a word in edgewise.”

“What? What are you talking about?  Of course she stole it,” Cordelia countered.  “You don’t have to protect that little loser, Angel.  She’s trash and she’ll always be trash.  You have to file a report or something.”

“I let her borrow it,” he said.  “It was cold.”

“Oh my GOD!” she shouted.  “If you tell me you’ve been sleeping with her-“

“No, I’m not sleeping with her,” Angel answered, a bit more forcefully than he intended.  “I just let her borrow my jacket, that’s all.”

Cordy started ranting again and Angel cut her short.  “I’ll talk to you later,” he said, flipping the phone shut as he concentrated on driving.  Everyone who partied at all knew where Spike lived, so Angel had no trouble finding his apartment.  When he got there, however, it was dark.  “Dammit,” he cursed.

It was late, maybe Buffy went home.  Angel drove to her house, parking in front.  It too was dark and her stepfather’s beater was gone.  Angel knocked on the door and when he received no answer, tested the door.  It was unlocked.  He slipped inside.  “Buffy?”

The house was quiet and dark.  Angel crept inside, glancing in rooms.  He found what had to be Buffy’s room and it made him sick to his stomach.  The doorframe was completely trashed along with most of the contents of the room.  But it wasn’t that Buffy was messy.  Someone had systematically destroyed everything in her room.  This was what she had to come home to.  Angel shook his head in disgust.

Angel drove around campus but found no sign of Buffy.  Finally, he did the last thing he could think of, he dialed Oz’s number.  “You know of any big parties tonight?”

Oz laughed.  “I thought this was a school night for you.”

“It is,” Angel bit out, in no mood to be given shit.  “Just answer the damn question.”

Oz sobered immediately.  “Alpha frat,” he said.  “If the cops haven’t shut them down.”

Angel had to park two blocks from the frat.  He grabbed his jacket and jumped out of the car, jogging down the street.  The party was still going pretty good.  The entire house was packed with bodies.  Angel searched from room to room.

He was about to head upstairs when a body wrapped around him.  “Little sister ain’t here tonight,” Faith said, rubbing against him.

“Faith,” Angel said softly, looking at the gorgeous brunette in his arms.  He pulled her into the darkened corner of the stairwell.

”Now this is what I’m talkin’ about,” Faith purring, scratching her nails down his chest.

Angel caught her hands.  “That’s not-” he stopped, raking a hand through his hair.  “Faith, is Buffy Summers here?  Have you seen her tonight?”

Faith pulled back out of his arms like she’d been burned.  “Buffy Summers?” she spat.

Angel growled, wishing Faith would be quiet.  “Please, it’s not what you think.  I just need to find her.”

Narrowing her eyes, Faith looked at him.  Fuck it.  Maybe the loser stole something and Angel wanted it back.  “Parker Abrams had her a while ago.  They were probably headed up to his room.”

“And his room is where?” Angel prompted.

“Upstairs,” Faith said.  “End of the hall.”

“Thanks,” Angel said, pressing a hard kiss to Faith’s lips before bounding up the stairs.

***

He found Parker’s room with little trouble given that some girl had left him a nasty message on the wipe board tacked to his door.  Seemed like Parker liked to love ‘em and leave ‘em.  Angel didn’t even bother knocking, he just opened the door.

They were on the couch.  Buffy’s shirt was off and she looked only semi-conscious as Parker fondled her breasts.  Parker jumped off the couch as Angel entered the room. Angel didn’t even think about it, he just pulled back and punched Parker as hard as he could in the face.  Parker howled, crumpling to his knees as blood flowed from his nose.

Angel shook his hand, trying to get the feeling back as he quickly wrapped Buffy in his coat.  She looked up at him with bleary eyes.  “Angel?”

“Yeah, it’s me, Buffy,” he said softly, zipping the coat shut.

She sighed, snuggling into the coat.  “Missed you,” she murmured before nodding off.

Angel took a moment to carefully trace his fingertips along her cheek.  Turning away, he viciously fisted his hand in Parker’s hair, forcing him to meet his gaze.  “What did you give her?” Angel demanded.

Parker stared at him dumbly and Angel growled.  “Don’t make me ask you again,” he said with deadly seriousness.

“GHB,” Parker managed to say before Angel pulled back and hit him again, knocking him unconscious.

“Fucking date rape drug,” Angel muttered, kicking Parker once in the ribs.  He turned to face Buffy and carefully lifted her into his arms.  She murmured in her sleep, snuggling closer into his embrace.  Angel wasn’t about to examine why having her safely in his arms made him feel better.  He headed out into the hallway, using the back stairs.  He wasn’t in a hurry to have to explain any of this to anyone.

He drove straight to his apartment and went to take Buffy to the couch only to find Doyle lying there instead.  He vaguely remembered the message that his friend had left about needing a place to crash.  It hadn’t occurred to him that it was tonight.  Sighing, he carried Buffy into his room and laid her on the bed.  He removed the jacket and swallowed hard at the sight of her naked chest.  He was definitely right about her having the nicest pair of breasts he had ever seen.  The sight of Parker fondling them earlier was enough to make him furious.  He couldn’t believe he beat the loser up though.  Who fought over a girl like Buffy Summers?

He closed his eyes.  Apparently he did.

He quickly retrieved one of his t-shirts and dressed her in it before unlacing her boots and tossing them aside.  He peeled off her too big socks and stared at them for a second before he realized they were his.  Quickly and efficiently, he removed her old cargo pants and quietly noted that her legs were just as fine as her breasts.

He tucked her into his king-sized bed, then he stripped as always and climbed into bed as well.  He thought about leaving on boxers for her benefit and then decided against it.  He hated to sleep with clothes on and he was pretty sure her delicate sensibilities wouldn’t be shattered by his naked ass.

****

Buffy awoke with a start and looked around her.  She had no idea where she was.  She could vaguely remember Parker giving her a drink at the Alpha frat and then everything went blank.  She knew for damn sure she wasn’t there.  It was too quiet here and it smelled too good.  Slowly, she turned over in the bed and as her eyes adjusted to the dark she saw she was in Angel’s bed.

Her hands immediately started shaking and she was sure part of it was whatever that fuck Parker slipped in her drink, but mostly it was being in bed with Angel.  She scooted over to where he was sprawled on his back and slipped the covers down to drink in his muscular body.

She never really cared what guys looked like.  Not since she was a little teeny bopper drooling over Angel and the latest boy band.  Men were a way to survive.  It didn’t matter what they looked like or how they moved when they climbed on top of her.  But Angel was different.  He was all she had ever wanted even before she knew what that was.  She realized now, looking over him, that he was far superior to the rest of them.

She freed her hair from its confining braid and shook it down her back before tossing away her shirt and panties.  Angel saved her again and she was going to thank him the only way she knew how.  She smoothed her hands over his chest delighting in the feel of all that hard muscle before leaning in to gently rub her lips against his.  She wondered what it would be like to kiss him, to have his hands buried in her hair.

The thought took her away from his lips and down.  She was damaged goods, but she could please him.  She was sure of that.  She flicked her tongue over one perfect nipple as her hand slid down his long body to caress his cock.  She cupped him expertly in her hand and kissed down his body as he began to react to her touch.

He groaned in his sleep as he hardened and shifted restlessly in bed.  Smiling, she laved long licks to the underside of his shaft as he hardened completely.  She sat up and pulled open his bedside table.  Score, the drawer was scattered with condoms.  She was certain a guy like him had to have plenty in supply.  They were the extra large kind.  She giggled.

She nabbed one and tore it open with her teeth before slipping it over him and then straddling his waist and sinking down on him.  She had only done it this way once or twice with Spike and usually he did all the work even when she was on top.  She was what Spike called a “dead fuck.”  She didn’t move her little hips, he had said.

Carefully, she started moving, bracing her hands on his chest; she rose and fell in a smooth, slow rhythm, savoring him, urging the rest of his body to wake with his sex.  She closed her eyes, concentrating on maintaining a smooth, fluid pace.  This wasn't like her.  She didn't make the first move with a guy.  She never took the initiative.  Sure, if she owed them or something, she'd let them fuck her, but she never got into it and she sure as hell didn't press the issue.

But it was different with Angel.  She knew he'd never ask her for anything.  He'd never even make a pass at her.  But this was the only way she could repay him.  It hurt to know that she'd be his dirty little secret, that he would never admit that there was anything between them.  But it didn't hurt enough to prevent her from taking her only chance to know what it was like to be with him.  Her life was bound to be hard and short and full of pain.  Angel was the one thing, the only thing, she could ever remember truly wanting.  She wasn't going to let this opportunity pass her by.

His fingertips bit into her hips, urging her down harder and Buffy's eyes flew open.  Angel was staring up at her, his eyes hooded and dark with passion.  Buffy swallowed thickly and then licked her lips.  It was too much, too intimate.  She sat up on him, her rhythm never faltering.  She closed her eyes and let her head fall back, her back arched so the hard points of her breasts protruded.  She heard him groan her name softly and it made her entire body tingle.  She shivered, feeling a slow fire build where their bodies were joined.  She was wet, so wet, and his movement deep within her body became easier and easier.

One of Angel's hands left her hip, slowly caressing up her body to cup her breast.  He squeezed gently before flicking his thumb over the aching tip.  She moaned, biting down on her bottom lip as her breathing became more labored.  His other hand moved low across her stomach and into her nest of sopping curls.  He used his thumb to sift through the wiry hair, finding her aching little clit.

Buffy cried out as he rubbed her intimately, but it felt too damn good to make him stop.  She opened her eyes and looked down at him.  He was still watching her intently; looking at her like she was the most divine piece of flesh he'd ever laid eyes on.  Heat rushed over her and her muscles corded as she shouted his name.  She was lost in wave after wave of pleasure and when it finally passed, she collapsed forward onto his chest.

Angel twined his fingers through her long tresses, forcing her face toward his so he could capture her lips in an absolutely searing kiss.  Buffy could do nothing but kiss him back, ceding him dominion over her body.

Buffy went willingly as he reversed their positions, laying her back in the pillows as he covered her body.  Her legs wrapped around his hips and she rose up to meet his thrusts as best she could.  Mostly she just savored the feel of him inside her body, looming over her.  He kissed along her jaw, nipping and licking as his hips thrust against her in a demanding rhythm.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him close.  The rhythm of his hips became erratic and he finally filled her one last time, grunting as his orgasm washed over him.  She held him, both of their hearts beating rapidly as they tried to catch their breaths.  But all too soon, he was pulling away and disposing of the condom.

Buffy stared up at the ceiling, not knowing what to do next.  Would Angel kick her out?  Would he be angry about what she had done?  Fuck it.  Even if he was angry, she knew she wouldn't have changed a thing.

But Angel didn't look angry as he crawled back under the covers.  He rolled his eyes and let out a soft laugh before pressing a gentle kiss to her lips.  "I guess you found the condoms," he said cheekily.  But his humor soon faded.  He sighed, his expression becoming more serious.  "I suppose that's for the best," he said.  "You sure as hell don't need to be throwing a kid into the mix."

Buffy stared up at him, quiet for a moment.   "The condom wasn't for me," she said quietly.  "I'm on birth control.  I just figured that you …" She swallowed thickly, looking past him to stare up at the ceiling.  "I don’t have any sort of disease or anything," she said firmly.  "I do get checked at the clinic.  I just … I just figured that you'd feel better about it if we used one."

Angel didn't know what to say, staring down at her vulnerable expression.  He was an asshole, he knew that.  Because Buffy was right.  He was disoriented when he woke up, but his first thought after 'I'm fucking Buffy' was 'thank god she slipped a rubber on me'.  Angel opted for saying nothing.  He urged her onto her side, facing away from him and spooned his body around hers, holding her tight.  "Buffy," he whispered into her hair before drifting off to sleep again.

***

In the morning, Buffy smiled when Angel’s trio of alarms went off.  It should have been annoying but she found it adorable.  They went off for a full minute in concert before he grunted and began turning things off.  Instead of getting up, however, he lay back down and snuggled against her warmth again.  She felt the silence grow as he stilled against her and she knew the honeymoon was effectively over.

“I didn’t do any drugs,” she said quietly, “Parker slipped it in my drink.”

“I know, Buffy,” he said, his voice right next to her ear.  She tingled all over and fought the urge to snuggle more deeply against him.  He radiated so much heat, she didn’t remember ever feeling that safe, like nothing in the world could touch her.  Not when she was with Angel.

“Cordy took the jacket from me and I couldn’t get in the apartment,” she added, struggling to find something to explain to him what had happened.  “I didn’t tell her anything.”

“I know,” he said, caressing her trembling body.  “It’s okay.”

“Anyway,” she said, giving up on her explanation, “I hope you feel better about going to so much trouble now.”

Angel sat up and looked down at her, but she kept facing the wall, unwilling to meet his gaze.  “What do you mean ‘now’?” he asked.

Sighing, she got out of bed.  “Now that we fucked, Angel.”

Growling, Angel stood and crossed the room, grabbing her by the upper arms so that she faced him.  “That’s not what that was to me.  I’m not one of those guys, Buffy.”

“I know that,” she said, shrugging him off.  “There’s no question of that.  Look, it’s no big deal.  It happened.”  She headed for the bedroom door nude and gripped the doorknob.  Still facing the door she said so quietly he almost didn’t hear, “I never came with anyone before you.”

Opening the door, she slipped out into the hallway and headed for the bathroom to shower.

Angel glared at the now closed bathroom door, fuming.  Irritated, he searched through his closet and began pulling on clothes, a ratty old pair of jeans and a worn sweatshirt.  It was Friday and technically, he should be at class, but he just didn't feel up to it.

What was it about Buffy that tied him up in knots?  He was irritated by her accusations.  But even more so by the knowledge that somewhere, deep down, Buffy was right.  Not about everything.  She had far too little self-esteem to even begin to fathom that he wasn't using her for sex.  But the other stuff … Buffy knew that he was ashamed of their relationship, regardless of how innocent it had been.  And Angel felt like even more the dick because he couldn't honestly tell her that she was wrong.  He was ashamed.  Part of him still bought into the belief that Buffy was trash.  He saw how she lived at home with her stepfather.  She'd admitted to a sex-for-drugs relationship with Spike.  She was passed around more at frat parties than a beer bong.  She was obnoxious, rude and she never said thank you.

But underneath all of that tough as nails exterior was a well of vulnerability that made Angel want to hide her away from the world like some fragile little bird.  She knew that he was uncomfortable about their relationship, so she had let Cordy think she had stolen his jacket rather than expose him.  Even when it meant forfeiting her only sanctuary, abandoning her warm, safe place to sleep.

And then she fucked him as a way of saying thank you.

Angel growled under his breath and stalked out to the kitchen.  He slammed cabinets and drawers as he made coffee.  He wasn’t naïve enough to think that Buffy had been all self-sacrifice when she had sex with him.  She'd enjoyed it.  Her orgasm had been real.  Her first, she said.  Angel couldn’t help the warm rush of pride that knowledge brought.  But dammit, he wasn't using her.  He didn't expect her to fuck him as a thank you.  The fact that she would think so little of him pissed him off.

Of course, over the course of their friendship, he'd made it a point of thinking very little of her.  Shit.

"If I'd 'a known ya had female companionship, I woulda crashed somewhere else."

Twisting around, Angel found Doyle, bleary-eyed, staring at him from the couch.  He frowned.  No doubt Doyle got quite an earful last night when Buffy went off like a firecracker.  "Coffee?" he nearly snarled.

“Sure,” Doyle said, grinning.  “Got something to pour into it?  I have a pounding hangover.”

Angel snarled as a response and pulled a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels from one of the cabinets.  He slammed it on the counter and fumed for a second.  Knowing Buffy would be hungry, even though he was too pissed off at both of them to contemplate eating, he rooted around in the refrigerator and the cabinets.  Nothing but condiments and molding cheese.  Fuck.

“I’m running down the street to get some breakfast,” Angel grunted at his friend.  “I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“And that’s what you want me to tell your little piece when she comes outta the bathroom?” Doyle asked with a shit-eating grin.  Angel’s answer was a slamming door.

***

Buffy left her hair down when she came out of the bathroom cause she knew Angel liked it flowing down her back. She noticed that he always stared at it like he wanted to run his fingers through it.  She really wished he would. Course now he was just really pissed off at her, which was fine.  He could be in any mood he wanted as long as he didn’t make her leave.  She wasn’t trying to snag him, but maybe if he liked the sex enough, he’d let her stick around longer.

Wrapped in a towel she walked into the living room to find Doyle sitting on the couch.  She knew Doyle pretty well.  Even screwed him a couple of times.  She was pretty sure Angel didn’t know that though and she was hoping it would stay that way.

“Doyle,” she said, surprised.  “Uh, hi.”

“Buffy,” he said, eyes widening in shock.  He had no idea that the girl Angel had been screwing all night long had been Buffy.  He couldn’t have been more shocked to see her than if a nun walked out of his bedroom.  “I didn’t know you and Angel…knew each other, lass.”

“We’re new friends,” she said, snatching Angel’s boxers from the under the table and wiggling into them.  She grabbed Angel’s t-shirt from the pile as well and headed back to the bathroom to put it on.  She didn’t have a problem with being naked in front of Doyle.  He had certainly seen her breasts more than once, but she was sure Angel would be angry if she changed in front of his friend.  He was strangely formal about stuff like that.

She followed Doyle into the kitchen and poured coffee from the still sputtering brew.  She learned a few days ago that it stopped when you took the pot out.  She even poured Angel a cup as a kind of peace offering.  Doyle poured JD into his and offered her some, but she shook her head.  She didn’t need oblivion with Angel, but sneaking a glance at Doyle, she saw he was stunned by her refusal.

Buffy didn’t know if Doyle would have said anything or not, but either way, he was cut short when Angel entered the apartment.  The look on Angel’s face told Buffy that he was irritated to find her and Doyle so cozy in the kitchen.  Gods, what was his problem?  Buffy knew that some guys would get all freaky territorial after you fucked them, though few did so with her, but that wasn’t what was up with Angel.  He’d been like this since they first started hanging out.

Whatever.

Buffy gave up trying to figure him out and handed him the mug of coffee.  Looking slightly mollified, he accepted the coffee and handed her the bag of assorted bagels and pastries.  Her little squee of delight as she opened the bag brought a reluctant smile to Angel’s lips.

Doyle stared at both of them like they’d grown two heads and decided that his company was no longer required.  He drank the hot coffee and JD mixture as fast as he could, grimacing as he finally set the empty mug in the sink.  “If I don’t get going now, I’ll be late for work,” he said, exiting the kitchen.

Angel waited until he could hear Doyle at the door and he yelled, “I’ll walk you down to your car.”

Buffy was standing at the counter, pulling items out of the bag and setting them on a plate.  Not because it was more civilized, but because then she could carefully study all her options.  Angel couldn’t help but chuckle.  He walked up behind her, bracing his arms against the counter on either side of her and leaned down, nuzzling into the sensitive space behind her ear.  Buffy shivered.  “Save me a bagel,” he said softly, then quickly nipped at her earlobe before turning and jogging after Doyle.

***

Doyle was already unlocking the door to his car by the time Angel got downstairs.  They glanced at each other awkwardly.

“I don’t know why you just don’t move back down here,” Angel said.  “You’re here three days a week and then you have to drive two hours back for that damn job.”

Doyle shrugged.  He knew that Angel hadn’t followed him all the way outside to talk about his daily commute.  “Whatever you do and whoever you do it with is your business, Angel.”

Angel frowned, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans.  “It’s not ...  I mean, we’re just...” He sighed, rolling his eyes at his own confusion.  “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say anything,” Angel said seriously.  “Between Cordy and Darla, I’d never hear the fucking end of it and they’d do their best to chase Buffy clear outta town.”

Doyle looked at the friend he’d known since freshman year in high school.  Angel was a good guy.  Sure, he got around – with his looks and money, how could he not - but he never disrespected any of his girls and he didn’t kiss and tell.  “You keepin’ an eye out for her?” Doyle asked.

Angel nodded slowly.  “I’d appreciate it if you’d do the same.”

Doyle forced his expression to be neutral, but he couldn’t honestly believe what Angel was saying.  Sure, Doyle had slept with Buffy a few times.  Hell, everyone had slept with Buffy a few times.  But for someone like Angel, someone who could have Darla Weston in his bed any day of the week, to be taking care of Buffy Summers was so far outside the realm of possibility it was laughable.

But Angel wasn’t laughing.  At first Doyle just assumed Angel had picked up Buffy at a party like everyone else did, brought her home for some fun.  But from their obvious breakfast ritual and the fact that Buffy kept a set of clothes at his apartment – even if the clothes in question had originally belonged to Angel – there was obviously a whole lot more going on.

“Your secret’s safe with me,” Doyle said. “And I’ll keep an eye on the lass.”

“Thanks, Doyle.”

****

“Don’t you have class?” Buffy asked, when Angel came back up to the apartment a few minutes later.  She was in the midst of choosing her next pastry, her hand hovering over the plate.  Just the possibility of choices and so many of them made her so happy.  She grinned at him when he came in and then looked down at her breakfast again.

“I’m taking a day off,” he said, pressing behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist.  “Did you eat my bagel?”

“Yep,” she said, nodding, “and it was yummy.”

She squealed as he turned her around and set her up on the counter, before insinuating himself between her legs.  She wrapped her legs around his waist and looked down on him with a mock scowl.  “You’re gettin’ in the way of my breakfast, son,” she drawled playfully.

“You are breakfast,” he answered, nipping her breast through her shirt.  He threaded his fingers through her hair and brought her mouth to his lips, kissing her so deftly her bare toes curled.  She wrapped her legs more tightly around him and he lifted her away from the counter.  He kept kissing her as he walked her back to the bedroom.

She held on to him tightly and kissed him back for all she was worth, stunned by his attention to her, by his playful sexiness.  Buffy wasn’t used to this sort of treatment.  She was usually just a party favor, someone to climb on top of in a dark corner.  Angel treated her like she was his lover, like they were in a relationship or something.  It was as confusing as it was arousing.

They made short work of their clothes and Buffy was surprised when instead of just driving it home and taking what he wanted, he started kissing down her neck before moving down her body, leaving a scorching trail as he went.  He spent an inordinate amount of time on her breasts, licking, nibbling and suckling her aching nipples until she was gasping in pleasure.

“Angel, please,” she panted.  He abandoned her breasts and made his way down her body.  He dipped his tongue in her belly button and she giggled nervously.  When he settled between her thighs, pressing his face into her sex, she gasped.  “What the fuck are you doing?” she tried to demand, but her voice just came out breathy, in an almost purr.

“Shhh,” he whispered.  “Just close your eyes and let me taste you.”  No doubt Buffy thought she was knowledgeable about sex.  And Angel didn’t have any trouble believing that she had slept with enough men to feel she was justified in making that assessment.  But just as obvious was the fact that no one had ever gone down on her before.  Angel wasn’t shocked by that.  He doubted that any of her partners had ever given a damn about her pleasure.

“Angel,” she whimpered, squirming beneath him.  Whether she was trying to squirm away or squirm closer, Angel wasn’t sure.

He used his hands on her hips to hold her still as he nuzzled against the wiry hairs covering her sex.  With his tongue he parted the seam between her nether lips, tentatively tasting her.  She was aroused.  He could smell the heady fragrance of her feminine musk.  But she wasn’t wet.  Not like she’d been last night.  He wanted to get her back to that place where she was mindless in her need for him.

He shifted, pressing his face more fully against her folds, tasting her more intimately.  As his tongue laved over her clit, she yelped, jumping like electricity was arching through her veins.  He did it again.

Over and over he tasted her, releasing his hold on her hips at one point so he could carefully manipulate her clit with his fingers while his tongue stabbed inside her achingly empty channel.  She was whimpering, her body beaded with perspiration as her hips arched up against him in a demanding rhythm.  He gave her what she wanted, latching onto her clit, suckling as two fingers pumped in and out of her sheath.  She came, chanting his name as her back arched off the bed, her fingers fisted in the sheets.

He watched her orgasm wash over her, watched her heaving breasts, her hair messily scattered over the pillows.  He let his head fall against her thigh, one hand gently caressing her hip as he waited for her to recover.

She shifted under him and he lifted his head, looking up at her.  She opened her arms and he gladly stalked up her body.  He kissed her, half wondering if she would be grossed out, but Buffy didn’t miss a beat, shoving her tongue down his throat.  Angel threaded his fingers through her beautiful hair, kissing her long and hard.  When she began plaintively arching up against him, he reached into the nightstand and grabbed another condom.

She was just as tight and hot and responsive as he remembered and Angel groaned at the exquisite sensation.  Barring every other concern he had, Angel had to admit that Buffy was a phenomenal lay.  She fit him perfectly, matched him in every way.  She was so little, so seemingly fragile, but her passion threatened to burn him alive.  He buried himself in her time and time again, relishing her breathy little grunts, her throaty moans of delight.

Snaking one hand between their bodies, he rubbed her clit in time with his thrusts, wanting to feel her coming around him again, wanting to give her the same pleasure she gave him.  Her body was already primed for him and in mere moments she was sobbing her release, her fingernails biting deeply into the flesh of his back.  With a shout, Angel joined her in oblivion.

****

On Saturday morning Buffy woke up with muscles aching that she didn’t even know she had.  After spending all day Friday in bed with Angel and all night as well, she was sated and warm.  Unlike the other times she’d been with someone, she didn’t feel used.  She felt…liked.

She and Angel had coffee and leftover pastries from the day before together and then when it was time to head to the Hyperion, Angel just dropped her off instead of coming inside with her.

“You aren’t coming in?” she asked.  Strangely, the idea of spending the day without him was less than desirable.

“I can’t,” he said, caressing her delicate jaw.  “I have to catch up on everything I didn’t have time to do last week. Why don’t I pick you up for lunch?”

“You don’t have to go out of your way,” she said quietly, staring out of the window.  Reality was sinking in way too fast for her.  She didn’t know how to deal with his kindness.  “It’s no big deal.”

“I want to have lunch with you,” he said firmly.  “Will you be out here at 12:30 when I come by?”

“Yeah.”  She watched as he scanned the parking lot briefly before stealing a quick kiss.  She scrambled out of the car and headed for the Hyperion without looking back.  It wasn’t like this was some fairy tale and Angel was swooping in to save her from her life of hell.  No, he was fucking her and feeding her and giving her a place to stay.  He was ashamed of her and she couldn’t really expect anything less from him.  She was that kind of girl, one you hid in the darkness.

As she walked inside and began looking for Jenny to get her instructions for the day, she couldn’t help but realize that there was nothing different from what she was doing with Angel and what she did with anyone else.  She fucked him for food instead of drugs.  The only difference, aside from the mind-blowing orgasms, was that this time she loved the guy.  The idea of losing him made her blood turn cold, but she knew it was inevitable.  It was only a matter of time before he went back to his classy, beautiful women and left her behind.

Fuck it.  She would take what she could get.

She found Jenny in the pantry rummaging through the donated goods.  Boxes and paper bags of unsorted food sat around in piles all around her, waiting to be organized.  She immediately motioned Buffy over to her.

“Buffy,” Jenny began gently, “if you ever need a place to stay, I’ll be glad to find a bed-“

“Forget about it,” Buffy said, cutting her off tersely.  “I’m not homeless or anything.  I just needed a place to crash that night.”

Jenny handed her a business card.  “Just hold on to this and if you call me, day or night, I’ll find a place for you.  There’s no reason to be embarrassed about staying here.”

“Yeah,” she snorted. “Whatever.  Where do you want me?”

Frowning, Jenny let it drop.  Buffy was never going to gracefully accept help and Jenny knew enough people like Buffy to know better than to push the situation.  “The pantry needs to be organized,” she said.  “I’ll leave you to it.”

***

“Jesus fucking Christ, Angelus,” Darla cursed, sliding into the chair opposite Angel at the large research table.  “Do you see what I’ve stooped to?” she demanded, hissing at him.  “I have to come to the goddamn library just to get a word with you.  On a Saturday morning, no less.”

Angel sighed, rubbing his jaw.  “Look, Darla-“

“Don’t you dare ‘look, Darla’ me,” she snapped.  “I am not one of your little undergrad chippies who thinks you’re deep and mysterious and I will not be ignored.”

Frowning, Angel sank back in his chair.  He should have seen this coming.  Even though he and Darla were only loosely involved, he knew she didn’t take well to being ignored.  And he had certainly been ducking her for the last few weeks.

All because of Buffy.

Angel suppressed a grimace.  He still didn’t really have any idea what was going on with him and Buffy.  He’d almost convinced himself that his interest in her was purely platonic.  And then, uh, he woke up to her on top of him.  And he most certainly hadn’t wanted her to stop.  The memory of her perfect breasts, her long, golden hair streaming over her body, the snug fit of her tight little cunt gripping his cock.

He cleared his throat and sat up straight in his chair.  He was half hard just thinking about Buffy.  “What do you want, Darla?” he asked wearily.

“I want to know what the hell is going on,” Darla demanded.  “I know we aren’t monogamous but you won’t just write me off without a word.  I know when I’m being dodged.”

“I’ve just been busy.  I was in Chicago all last week because someone got sick.  I had to take over everything at the last minute and since I wasn’t the one originally going, I wasn’t able to prepare, so now I’m swamped with work-“

“Bullshit,” she growled.  “Who is she?”

“I’m telling you the truth,” he said honestly.  He was telling the truth.  Not all of it, but mostly.

“Oh, I know you are, lover.  I know you’re really busy.  Now who is she and how is this going to affect us?”

Speechless, Angel shifted his eyes to his book.  He wasn’t ready to tell anyone about Buffy, but he wasn’t ready to give her up either.  He also wasn’t ready to write off Darla.  He’d been with her on and off for years.  She was a great lay and a fun companion.  He couldn’t just give her up either.

“I don’t want it to be over with us,” he said quietly.

“Then you’re free to take me out tonight?” she challenged.

“No, I’m busy,” he said, setting his jaw.

“Well, when you’re ready to give me some of your precious time, Angelus, give me a call,” she snarled.  “Maybe I’ll just ask around and find out who you’ve been fucking.”

“Darla, don’t get involved in this,” Angel warned in low voice.

“Oh, I’m involved, lover.  Your little cock tease is about to get a run for her money.”

“Darla!” he growled as she stood up from the table.  Glances were shot their way but they both ignored them.

“Don’t you dare,” she hissed. “I look the other way while you fuck little undergrads, but I won’t be tossed aside for one of them.”  With that, she snatched up her purse and slithered from the library, leaving him to deal with the stares and her threat.

“Fuck,” he muttered, slamming his book shut.

***

Angel was so far behind that it would have taken him hours to catch up.  But his usually unflappable attention to detail was completely shattered by his earlier argument with Darla.  He didn't need this bullshit now.  He liked Darla.  He liked fucking Darla.  She wasn't happily ever after material, but she was fucking gorgeous and she looked great on his arm.

Buffy on the other hand … Oh, Buffy was a mess.  Everything about her was like a fucking car wreck.  Her home life was horrible.  Her personal life was horrible.  She was broken emotionally.  For as good as she was at surviving, she didn't know shit about taking care of herself.  She had zero self-esteem, no money, no education, no resources, no friends, no support system, no job.  She was a criminal with a foul mouth a waspish temper and he was fairly certain she intended to abscond with every last piece of clothing he owned.

But he did have to admit that she looked damn good in his clothes.  The memory of her standing in the hallway wearing nothing but his leather jacket …

Fuck.

The bottom line was that Buffy did not fit in his life.  They were night and day in every single aspect.  But there was something about her that just drew him in, even when she was spitting vinegar at him.  He couldn't turn away.  He just wanted to hold her in his arms and soothe away the hurts of the world.  And the worst part was that in her own way, she let him.  And he knew that she didn't accept comfort from anyone.  Buffy let him in when she wouldn't let anyone else in.  That just tore at his heart.

He sighed, rubbing his bleary eyes.  Damn, how long had he been at the library?  It must have been …

Angel froze.  Then in a burst of panic, looked at his watch.  Fuck!  It was after ten in the evening.  Shit!  He was supposed to have picked her up for lunch.  Goddammit!  He cursed himself, quickly throwing his books into his backpack and running for the door.  He forgot to pick her up for lunch; he forgot to pick her up after she got off her shift.  God fucking dammit.  Angel knew how tenuous Buffy's trust was.  She would read into this.  She would think he was abandoning her.  Angel's blood ran cold at the thought of what she might do.  She had nowhere to go, no one to trust.

Frantically, he dialed the number to the shelter as he jogged to the car.  A short conversation with Jenny told him that Buffy had been her usual caustic self at work all day, but that she had left at her normal time.  No, no one had seen if someone picked her up or if she walked.

Angel snapped the phone shut, cursing again as he unlocked his car and slid behind the wheel.  Saturday night was a big party night at Caritas.  Angel had seen fliers plastered all over campus.  He figured that would be his best bet.  Even though it was early, the club was already packed.  Angel searched out all the corners, even going so far as to check the women's restroom.  Buffy wasn't anywhere to be found.

Gods, how could he have been such an ass?  Sure, Darla threw him, but what had he been thinking forgetting Buffy?  He was frantic to find her, frantic that she might resort to her self-destructive behavior.  And truth be told, he was absolutely terrified at the idea of not seeing her again.

He drove to her house.  The lights were on.  Angel threw the car in park, jumping up and bounding up the stairs.  He pushed open the door without knocking, yelling, "Buffy?"

"What the fuck do you want?" a voice snarled.

Angel turned, seeing the man he knew must have been Buffy's stepfather.  Fifteen, twenty years ago, the guy was probably a ladies man.  But now … Gods, he was nothing more than a shriveled up husk of a man, twisted and contorted by misery.  He reeked of booze and stale sweat.  This was the man Buffy had been left with when her mother died.  Angel swallowed harshly, choking back nausea.  An innocent child had been left alone with this man.  And no one had stepped in to fight for her.

"You looking for the little whore?" Ethan demanded, slurring drunkenly.

"Where's Buffy?" Angel bit out.

Ethan laughed, a cold, dead sound.  "Little whore's probably out getting drugged up and fucked as usual," he said, smiling maliciously.  "Like a goddamn cat in heat, that one.  'Course, I understand the little bitch's appeal.  She takes it like a pro.  None of that crying and screaming bullshit.  Just lays there all still-like, lets a man have his way.  Yeah, I taught her right."

Angel didn't even think about it, he just reached out and grabbed the man, slamming him into the wall with all of his strength.  Ethan took a gasping breath, clawing at Angel's hands, trying to get away.  But fighting Angel wasn't like fighting a starving teenage girl.  Ethan was absolutely no match.

"Do you know where Buffy is?" Angel demanded, snarling every word in Ethan's face.

Ethan stared at him with unbridled rage.  "Haven't seen the little bitch in days," he spat.

Angel wanted nothing more than to cave Ethan's face in, but he forced himself to let him go.  "If you ever touch her again," Angel swore, "I will fucking kill you."

Ethan snorted in disgust, but backed away.  Sick to his stomach, Angel turned and left the house.

***

He drove around campus for hours looking for Buffy, but found no sign of her.   Once again, Spike's apartment was dark.  Defeated, Angel finally headed home.

The apartment was dark and he dropped his bag on the floor, leaning wearily against the recently closed door.  Gods, he fucked up.  He sighed heavily, running a hand through his hair.  If anything happened to Buffy he was never going to forgive himself.  He flipped on the hall light and slowly trudged down the hall.  He stopped in the doorway to his room, leaning forlornly against the doorjamb.

"Angel?"

Angel's head snapped up and he almost wept at the sight that met him.  Buffy, obviously groggy from sleep, snuggled up in his bed wearing one of his t-shirts.

“Buffy,” Angel groaned, going to the bed and pulling her into his arms.  “I am so fucking sorry.  Gods, baby, I looked everywhere for you. I’m so sorry.”

“I was wondering what happened,” she said, yawning.  “When you didn’t come for me, I just came home.”

“I just lost track of time,” he admitted, running his fingers through her tangled hair.  “I was so worried.”

“Worried?” she echoed, blinking at him in confusion.  “About what?”

“That…fuck, I don’t know.  I thought you would think that I abandoned you,” he admitted.  His heart was still racing from the hours he had run around town in a frantic search for her.  He couldn’t explore what that meant or why he was so afraid of what might have happened.

“I was mostly thinking ‘where the fuck is he’,” she admitted shrugging.  “I figure if you want me to leave, you’ll just toss my ass out.  Besides, I have a key again, remember?”

“Yeah,” he said, pulling her close for a kiss.  He pulled away and looked over her.  “You hungry?”

“Starving,” she admitted, smacking a kiss on his jaw.  Smiling happily at him she suggested, “Pizza?”

***
 

That night when they went to bed, Angel acted like she was going to break.  It was all soft caresses and sweet nothings in her ear.  Truthfully, she had been a little nervous when he never came home, but she wasn’t going to leave until he actually tossed her out.  She loved him and even if he never knew that she would take as much time as she had to be with him.

His concern for her seriously rocked her to the core.  She had never had anyone worried about her before.  Not in a very long time, anyway.  She didn’t even know how to deal with the fact that he cared enough to be sorry for something he had done.  So late in the night when she was cuddled in his tight embrace, she blinked back the tears and thanked whatever powers that be for him.

In the morning, she woke before him as usual and turned over to look at him.  He really did look like an angel.  He was so beautiful that sometimes she wanted to touch him just to see if he was real.  Sadly, she knew he wasn’t.  He was a passing gift in her wreck of a life.

Gently, she urged him to roll over onto his back and took his cock in her hands carefully.  She tossed her hair to the side and leaned down, taking him into her mouth, caressing and suckling him to hardness.  In the dark, he hissed in pleasure in his sleep.  He hardened quickly from her manipulations and she swirled her tongue around the tip of his aching cock.  She eagerly licked and nibbled the underside of his shaft before covering his length with wet kisses.

She glanced up when his fingertips lightly caressed her jaw, staring down at her with passion blazing in his dark eyes.  Taking her cue, she closed her mouth over the head of his cock once more.   He breathed a sigh of relief when her hot mouth finally covered him.  Her talented mouth worked over him, taking in more with every stroke.

“Gods, Buffy, you’re so fucking good at that,” he groaned, arching into her hot mouth.  She hummed around him, moving down further until he was gurgling and groaning with pleasure.  Taking pride in his obvious pleasure, she doubled her efforts until he cried out in release.

Smiling in self-satisfaction, Buffy crawled up his body, snuggling against him.  She rested her head on his chest, listening to the still pounding beat of his heart.  Angel’s hand sifted through her hair, carefully combing through the long tresses.

Buffy was stretching when she felt Angel’s body go rigid underneath her.  “Shit,” he cursed, quickly scurrying out of bed and jumping into his sweatpants.  He looked at Buffy, his eyes wide.  “Wait here.  I’ll be right back.”

Buffy sat in bed, staring at the now closed door.  Little by little, she inched out of bed.  She picked up Angel’s discarded shirt off the floor and shrugged into it, walking to the bedroom door.  She opened the door a crack and listened.

“Cordy, now is not a good time,” Angel said sharply.

“What is your deal?” Cordelia demanded.  “You’re always such a fucking grouch. And if anyone has the right to be nasty, it’s me.  I talked to Mom yesterday. She says you’ve been giving Buffy Summers rides down to the shelter.  What the fuck is up with that?”

“That is none of your business,” Angel said, trying to shoo his sister to the door.

“Is she here now?” Cordelia asked, her face set in firm lines.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Angel scoffed.

“Angelus Chase,” Cordy snapped.  “Are you fucking Buffy Summers?”

Angel sputtered, rolling his eyes at his sister.  “Of course not,” he lied uncomfortably.

Cordelia looked him up and down, obviously unconvinced.  Something was up with her brother and she intended to get to the bottom of it.  “You better not be,” Cordelia told him darkly.  “If you stick your dick in that drugged up little whore, my reputation may never recover.  You may be done with undergrad life, but I’m just starting and I’m not about to be a social pariah because of your tasteless hormones.”

“Oh, well, by all means then,” Angel snapped sarcastically, “I’ll try to control myself for your benefit.”

She frowned severely at him.  “I’m not kidding, Angel.”

“Go away, Cordelia,” he grumped.  “I have company.”

“It better not be Buffy.”

“It’s not Buffy!” he yelled, glaring at his sister.  “Now go.”

With a very unladylike snort, she turned and headed for the door.

Angel waited until Cordy was gone, then flipped the deadbolt and secured the chain on the door.  He rubbed a hand roughly over his face.  Goddammit, what was he going to do?  He cringed, hoping Buffy hadn’t heard the conversation.  With a groan, he headed back to his bedroom where he met Buffy exiting.  “Hey,” he said softly.

“Hey,” she chirped brightly, even though she wouldn’t meet his gaze.  “I’m just going to take a real quick shower.”

She brushed past him and Angel caught her arm, forcing her to look at him. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Fine,” she lied, hoping he didn’t notice how brittle her smile was.  She tugged on her arm and he released her.

She managed to start the shower and climb inside before she started crying.  She sank down, sitting on the shower floor as water pounded over her.  Damn Angel and damn her.  What was she thinking getting involved with him?  With anyone else, she would have been prepared for that reaction, she could have let their words roll off her back like nothing.  But when Angel had so vehemently denied being involved with her, it hurt.  Oh, it more than hurt, she thought she was going to die.

***

It took Buffy twenty minutes to compose herself enough that she was certain she wouldn’t break down in front of Angel.  When she finally left the bathroom, he was sitting at the small table flipping through more files.  “Get dressed,” he said without looking up.  “I called Jenny.  She knows you’re taking the day off.”

“Day off?”

Looking up, Angel’s breath caught at the sight of her wrapped in nothing but the vibrant blue towel, her hair streaming over her shoulders.  He swallowed thickly.  “We’re going to the mall,” he said.  “I’m getting you a cell phone.”

“I don’t understand,” she said, looking at him in confusion.

“If I get wrapped up in work again, you can call me instead of walking home like last time,” he said, shrugging.  “It’ll make me feel better to know you have one.”

“I don’t need a cell phone,” Buffy said quietly, trying to keep from crumpling again.  He didn’t make any sense.  One minute he was denying their involvement to his sister and the next moment he was doing something that seemed like a clear indication that he planned on being a part of her life.  It was bewildering.

“All you have to do is put it in your pocket, Buffy,” he said.  “You don’t even have to give out the number.  Just keep it in case we need to get a hold of each other.”

“It’s expensive,” she said, heading to the bedroom to get dressed, knowing he would follow.  She now kept her clothes in a pile beneath the bedside table.  Just the sight of them there was a sure sign of what they weren’t.  She didn’t even have a drawer.  She blinked back tears as she dropped the towel and began to get dressed.

“I can afford it,” he said from the doorway.

“I know you can,” she said.  “That’s not the point.  Besides, usually they have contracts or something, don’t they?”

“Yeah. So?”

“So,” she said, keeping her back to him as she shimmied into her panties and then her cargo pants. “It’ll just be a mess for you to clean up later.  It really doesn’t make any sense for a girl like me to have a cell phone.”

"Let me worry about it," he said.  "You ready?"

***

It was early enough that the mall was still largely in the domain of the mall-walkers.  There were only a few legitimate customers milling about.  Angel was guiltily happy about that.  He wasn't in the mood to run into anyone he knew and have to explain the fact that he was shopping with Buffy.  It was nobody's business.

While Angel was finishing up the paper work at the little cell phone kiosk, Buffy milled around, looking in store windows and generally ignoring him.  He still couldn't figure out why she was so adamantly opposed to him buying her a cell phone.  But at least she'd gone from arguing to simply ignoring.

As the clerk finished entering the information in the computer, Angel turned around, leaning against the counter, watching Buffy.  Her arms were crossed defiantly over her chest as she stared at the window display, but the expression on her face wasn't defiant, or even disgusted, as he might have expected.  It was wistful, sad even.

The realization hit Angel like a physical blow.  Aside from the clothes that she had taken from him, Angel had only ever seen Buffy in two different pairs of pants and a handful of threadbare t-shirts.  Even five minutes ago, if you would have asked him about it, Angel would have said Buffy wore only what she wanted to wear.  He figured she dressed in her baggy cargo pants and her non-descript shirts because she liked them.  But watching her now, he wondered if there wasn't another reason.

"Here you are, sir," the clerk said, handing him a small bag.

"Thanks," Angel said, distracted.  All of his attention was still focused on Buffy.  He took the bag and walked slowly toward where she looked in at a chic little outfit in the window display.  The halter and form fitting black pants would look fantastic on his new lover.  He nudged her gently.

“Why don’t you go try it on?” he suggested, nodding at the outfit when she turned to look at him incredulously.  He wrapped an arm around her waist and guided her into the store.  He smiled at the clerk who ignored Buffy and walked straight to him, looking over his expensive clothing with approval.

“Can I help you, sir?” she asked.

***

Angel lugged Buffy’s bags to the tenth store – at the very least – that they had been to that day, wishing to fucking god he hadn’t suggested Buffy buy clothes.  After her initial hesitation, she dove into the luxury of taking whatever she wanted off the racks.  She spent an obscene amount of his money already and if she hadn’t been modeling all those sexy clothes for him, he would have demanded they leave seven stores ago.  As she giddily approached yet another store, Angel finally balked.

“Uh uh,” he grunted.  “That’s it.  I can’t take another minute of this.”

“Angel,” she groaned, tugging on his arm.  “Look.”  He followed her pointing finger to a rack of leather pants and felt her press her body against his.  He scowled for good measure as he looked down on her sweet face.

“Can you really tell me you don’t want to see me in those pants?” she asked seductively.

“Fine,” he growled out, striding toward the store, “but that’s it and I mean it.  No more shopping.”

“That’s it,” she echoed, making her way to the rack and flipping through the leather pants.

“Unless you want to buy lingerie,” Angel amended.  “But then that’s it.”

“Right,” she nodded, biting back at smile.  She chose a black pair after carefully looking through them and then grabbed another pair of red at the last moment.  She spun around with her choices and smacked a kiss on his lips.  “You know, I probably should at least have one little thong,” she purred.

“Goddammit,” he grumbled as she headed for the dressing room, but he couldn’t argue.  She did need one little thong and maybe another dozen to go with it.

***

Buffy and Angel were finally leaving the lingerie store an hour and half later, when they nearly collided into someone.  They weren’t paying attention the people around them - mostly because Buffy was already talking about modeling the lingerie when they got home.

“Oh, excuse me,” Buffy chirped, stepping out of the way before really looking at the person in front of them.

“Buffy,” Graham said in surprise and then glanced at her companion.  “And…Angelus Chase.”

“Graham,” Angel replied curtly in greeting.

“I didn’t know you two knew each other,” he said, obviously stunned and simultaneously taking notes as he looked over the multiple bags Angel was carrying, which all seemed to be from women’s stores.

“Yeah, well, it’s a small world,” Buffy blurted, unsure of how to handle the situation.

“Buffy and I volunteer together at a homeless shelter,” Angel answered easily.  “We were just shopping for some donations.  It’s hard to get nice, durable clothes donated year around.”

“Lingerie?” Graham asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, homeless people need panties too,” Buffy said irritably.  “See you around, Graham.”

***

Buffy ignored Angel's frown of disapproval as she braced her booted feet against the dash.  It shouldn't bother her.  It shouldn't.  But as she blinked away tears, staring out the window, she couldn't deny that it did hurt.

What the fuck was up with him anyway?  It wasn't like she wasn't used to this situation.  She fucked a lot of guys to get the things she needed, like drugs or a safe place to sleep for the night, but with Angel, it was different.  She wasn't fucking him as payment, or because he expected it.  She was fucking him because she loved him.  Dammit!

She blinked quickly, taking a deep breath.  She wasn't going to cry.  Not in front of him.  For whatever misguided reasons, he had just spent a ton of money on her.  She had a cell phone and more clothes than she could remember ever having in her entire life.  He didn't need to do that.  He shouldn't have done that.  How fucking stupid for him to buy all that crap for some girl he was just screwing.

But then she remembered the way his eyes looked - dark with passion - when she modeled the little sheer nightgown for him.

Yeah.  Asshole.  Because ten minutes later they ran into Graham and Angel played it off perfectly, like they were just co-workers.  Whatever.  What did she expect?  That he was going to introduce her to Graham as his girlfriend?  That he was going to publicly claim the community whore?  No way.  Angel may have been a nice guy, but he wasn't a total chump.  Buffy learned long ago that a lot of guys who wouldn't give her the time of day in public had no problem fucking her into a mattress when no one was looking.  Why should it shock her that Angel wasn't any different?

Because he's the first one I've loved, she thought.

Fuck it.

"Drop me of at the shelter," Buffy said tersely.

Angel looked over at her.  "I already told Jenny you were taking the day off."

"Fuck you, you told Jenny," she spat.  "It's my life.  Take me to the shelter.  You might be able to drop in whenever you fucking feel like it but some of us are court ordered to be there and I really don't feel like having my probation officer on my back."

"Fine," Angel said, taking the next corner far too fast and zooming off toward the shelter.  He didn't even know why he was mad.  Buffy was right.  She did need to be at the shelter.

But he'd had plans to lounge around the apartment with her, watching her model her new clothes, definitely fucking her in more than a few of them.  But she was right.   That knowledge didn't really account for the fact that he was in an awful temper when he finally screeched to a halt in front of the Hyperion.

***

When Angel returned to the Hyperion to pick Buffy up at five, she wasn’t outside waiting like usual.  Frowning, he pulled into the parking lot and stepped out after waiting ten minutes for her to show.  He had spent the afternoon fuming over her going to work instead of coming home.  He was pissed and he didn’t even know why he was pissed.  She had a right to show up for her community service hours.

He stalked into the hotel and slipped up the stairs without drawing attention to himself.  It was one thing to give Buffy rides back and forth, but it was another to go inside and seek her out like some big boner with legs.  He finally found her on the third floor in one of the back bedrooms sanding down joint compound sloppily applied.  He stepped inside the room watched for a second.  She was wearing a facemask over her nose and mouth and was covered in white dust from head to toe from sanding all day.  She was attacking the wall like she expected it to fight back.

“Buffy,” Angel said finally, “it’s almost 5:30.  You want to go?”

“No,” she said, stiffening.  “I need to catch up on the hours that I missed this morning.  I’ll just walk home later.’

“You can come in one day this week if you want to catch up,” he offered.  “It’s been a long day.  Why don’t you come home?  You’re probably hungry.  We forgot about lunch.”

“Just let me work, Angel,” she growled, sanding harder.  She kept her back to him as tears welled in her eyes.  She had all day to work off her anger, but she just worked herself up more.  She sniffled while trying not to breathe in the dust flying off the wall before her.

“Hey,” he said, gently covering her hand with his to stop her from sanding.  “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she choked, pulling her hand away from his and going to the open window.  She yanked the mask off and leaned out the window, taking deep breaths of fresh air.

“Why are you upset with me?” he asked again, standing closely behind her.

“I just don’t understand you, that’s all,” she answered, keeping her back to him.

“What do you mean?”

“If you think I’m a worthless whore and you can’t admit you’re fucking me, I’m wondering why you bother doing things like buying me clothes or getting me a cell phone,” she said, turning around to face him.  The tears welling in her eyes began to slip out and she swiped at them angrily, leaving streaks in the white dust on her face.  “Why do you bother treating me like you care, when you obviously don’t?”

“I do care,” he answered, stepping forward.

“Bullshit,” she shouted, moving away.  “You don’t care about me, Angel.  You couldn’t possibly.  If you did you wouldn’t treat me like some dirty little secret.  You wouldn’t have lied to Graham this morning or your sister.”

“It’s complicated,” Angel said carefully.  “Why don’t we go home and then we can work this out, okay?”

“Oh yeah,” Buffy blurted, striding toward the door.  “Why don’t we go home to your apartment where you can dress me up to be your own private fuck doll, where no one could possibly overhear?  Fuck you, Angel.”

“Wait,” he shouted, pulling her back.  “Where the hell are you going?”

“Does it even matter?” she cried, letting the tears flow down her cheeks.  “Why did you buy me all that stuff today? WHY?  Why did you make me feel like I was worth something?  Just let me go, goddammit.”

“Buffy,” he said, holding onto her as she tried to yank herself away.

“What?” she sobbed, beating her fists against his chest.  “You’re worse than all those other guys!  At least with them, I knew where I stood.  I knew what they thought of me, but you, YOU made me think you were different, that you gave a flying fuck, but you don’t.”

“I do care about you!” he roared, shaking her.  “I just didn’t know how to handle telling people about us.  I’m not letting you walk away from me.”

“Fuck you, Angel,” she sobbed, leaning into his chest because there was nowhere else to go.  “Fuck you.”

Angel wrapped his arms around her, holding her close.  His eyes closed as he hugged her tighter.  He wanted to tell her that he wasn't ashamed of her, but the words wouldn't come.  Because they weren't true.  He was ashamed and Buffy could see that even when he couldn't.  He mentally cursed himself.

***

"I thought we were going back to the apartment," Buffy said, her voice scratchy and low.

"Do you mind if we go out?" he asked.  He knew it was half-hearted and he knew he was only trying to alleviate his guilt.  But still, it was all he was capable of at the moment.

"Whatever," she said wearily, and honestly, she didn't care.

Ten minutes later, they pulled up in front of a small duplex.  Following Angel's lead, Buffy opened her door and got out.  "I thought Doyle moved," she said.

"He did," Angel answered, "but last week he decided to move back.  Oz never did find another roommate so I'm sure he's glad to have him back in the - " Angel fell silent and stopped in his tracks.  Turning, he looked at Buffy.  "How did you know Doyle used to live here?"

Buffy laughed.  She was in absolutely no mood to placate Angel's ego.  "How the fuck do you think I knew where he lived, Angel?" she asked in a biting tone.

Angel's jaw muscles tightened, but he remained silent.  He knew that Buffy was baiting him, throwing her past in his face.  He also knew that despite anything she might have done in the past that she wasn't messing around now and she wasn't doing drugs.  Every night she was with him and him alone.  Angel swallowed his pride and grinned.  "Well, I'm not telling you how I knew where he lived either," he said with a smirk.

Buffy stared at him like he'd spoken in another language and then laughed.  Shaking her head, she walked to the front door with Angel.  Instead of knocking, he pressed her against the door and kissed her soundly.

“I’m going to make it up to you,” he said, between kisses.  She stiffened and pulled away from his lips.  For a second, she had forgotten.  It was hard to remember she was a whore when she was in the arms of the man she loved.

“No,” he said, cupping her cheek.  “I mean it.  I won’t hide us anymore.  I want to be with you, Buffy.”

“Do you really?” she asked, her lower lip trembling.

“I really do,” he answered, kissing her.  “Okay?”

“Asshole,” she said, wrapping her arms around him and holding him tight.  Keeping her closely against him, he knocked on the door.

***

It wasn't a party.  A few movies, a pizza and some beers with Doyle and Oz weren’t exactly going to make Buffy and Angel a public item.  But still, it was a start.  Oz's girlfriend, Willow, showed up around midnight and her eyes went wide as she saw who was cuddled up next to Angel.  To his credit, Angel introduced Willow to Buffy like Willow would have no reason to know who his newest girlfriend was.  Being a genuinely sweet person, Willow played along.

Buffy had a few beers and snuggled up next to Angel, only half paying attention to the movies.  She was sleepy and sated and safe.  She smiled as Angel pulled the tie out of her hair and slowly ran his fingers through her braided tresses.  "I love your hair," he whispered, burying his nose in the long locks.

"I know," she said smugly.

What must have been hours later, Buffy woke groggily to Angel nudging her toward the door.  She was sleepy and only half-aware as he bundled her out to the car and drove back to the apartment.  Long minutes later, she sighed in relief as she pillowed her head on his chest.  Like everything else in her life, this relationship was completely fucked up, but at the moment, she really couldn't be bothered to care about that.  Right now she was safe and warm and cuddled in the arms of the man she loved.  It couldn't last, but for now, it was enough.

***

Buffy really did think Angel was making an effort in the beginning.  It seemed like he was anyway.  Over the weeks that passed, he took her out to dinner and to the movies, they hung out with his friends from time to time and it was fun pretending that they were her friends too.  She wore her new clothes all the time and eventually threw her old ones away.  She was glad to be rid of them.  It was a cleansing of sorts to not have to ever put on those worn cargo pants again.

Angel was loving and sweet.  They made love constantly and were together as much as possible.  It was perfect, like a little honeymoon.  He loved calling her on her phone during the day when they couldn’t be together, telling her he couldn’t wait to get her home, whispering naughty suggestions in her ear.

Her belly was full and she was warmer than she had ever been.  She loved waking up in the mornings in Angel’s arms and going to sleep in them at night.  She couldn’t get enough of the passion burning in his dark eyes for her.  She even had money in her pocket and clean, new clothes on her back.  Everything should have been perfect…but it wasn’t.

It didn’t take long to notice that the movie theatres they went to were never the ones where a UCLA student could possibly see them.  The restaurants were nice, but not hangouts of people they knew, not places where his family or his family’s influential friends might frequent.  He never went to the Hyperion with her even though he picked her up and dropped her off every Saturday and Sunday.  If he did go in, he left her immediately to talk to his mother.  He didn’t touch her there and it was obvious that he had no intention of ever telling his family that she was living with him.

Buffy waited for the day when he took her to a college party or introduced her as his girlfriend to anyone besides Doyle, Oz and Willow, but she had the nagging feeling he never would.  She was still a dirty little secret, only now more people were in on it.

She tried not to think about it.  She placated herself with how happy she was with him, how he would come around.  He never treated her like she was worthless, he trusted her and he went above and beyond to make sure she knew she meant something to him.  Hell, she knew the pin number to his ATM card.  That was something, wasn’t it?

***

“Hey,” Angel said as he came inside the apartment and dropped off his books on the end table before leaning down over the couch and getting a hello kiss from Buffy.  He smiled.  It was becoming a ritual for him.  He came home from school, got a passionate kiss from his little live-in lover and usually was semi hard by the time they broke apart.

“Mmmm hey,” she answered against his lips.  She bounded up from where she was studying for her G.E.D and smiled winningly at him.  “Guess what?”

“What?” he said, shrugging off his new leather jacket.  He had to buy it to replace the one he had given her.

“I went to the grocery store today and I’m cooking dinner,” she announced proudly.  Her happiness about a simple meal was infectious and soon he was looking forward to whatever burnt concoction she was whipping up.

“You are cooking?” he asked incredulously, pulling her into his arms.  “What are we having?  Filet mignon followed by crème brulee?”

“Yes, baby,” she said, rolling her eyes and smacking a kiss on his cheek.  “With a side of burnt toast and jelly.”

“My favorite,” he chuckled, nibbling on her neck.  She squirmed away with a giggle and took him by the hand, leading him into the kitchen.  Everything was neatly set out for the meal, ready to be cooked.

“Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup,” she exclaimed happily.  “I even know how to cook it cause my mom used to make for me all the time.  It was my favorite.”

“I can’t wait,” he said honestly.  He knew she was normally overly happy about meals and food in general since she had gone without so many times, but this was different.  There was a childish delight on her face that he hadn’t seen before.  While it was intriguing, it also made him a little sad.  She should have been free to make grilled cheese sandwiches all she wanted while she was growing up.

“I’m going to start cooking and you…answer the door,” Buffy said when a knock sounded as she started to speak.  She was humming happily and opening the can of tomato soup when a female voice purred from the other room.  She assumed it was Doyle or Oz, who stopped by from time to time, but now her curiosity got the best of her.  She moved to the kitchen door to look out and eavesdrop.  A beautiful dark haired girl stood at the door pawing her man.  She scowled and leaned in to listen.

“I haven’t seen you in a long time Angel,” she said throatily, rubbing his chest with her bright red claws.  “We used to see each other at least once a week.  I think someone’s been avoiding me.”

“Been busy, Gwen,” he said, making no move to stop her from molesting him.  “I’m sorry I haven’t called.”

“Busy tonight?” she asked, moving in closer to him.

“Actually yeah, I have a dinner date,” he said.  “She’s in the kitchen, so I’d not like to have you two meet, if you know what I mean.”

“Sure,” she said, looking disappointed.  She stopped touching him, much to Buffy’s pleasure and backed a half step away.  “I’ll be waiting for your call, Angel.”

Buffy snuck back into the kitchen and hurriedly started cooking.  She was upset by the encounter and wasn’t entirely sure why.  He turned her away and he was honest that he had a date, but she couldn’t help but want more.  She wanted him to tell Gwen that he had a girlfriend now, that he didn’t plan on calling her at all…ever.

She said nothing as he came into the kitchen and began rooting around the refrigerator for something to drink.  He didn’t say anything about the visitor either.  It was as if there hadn’t been a knock on the door at all.

***

Buffy was nervous. She kept tugging at her clothes, like that would somehow make her feel more at home in her new, ill-fitting life.  She was a poser and she knew it.  She didn’t understand why people insisted on pretending like she belonged.

Buffy was dragged from her self-loathing ruminations as Willow entered the small coffee shop, waving and smiling brightly.  Buffy liked Willow a lot.  They were total opposites. Willow was sheltered and quiet, very shy.  Needless to say, Buffy was not.  But somehow it evened out.  They complemented each other.

“Hey,” Willow chirped, sliding into the seat across the small table from Buffy.

“Hi,” Buffy replied, trying not to duck her head.  She realistically knew that she didn’t look completely out of place.  Her outfit was stylish without drawing a lot of attention.  She was getting good enough with the makeup that her scar was hardly noticeable anymore.  But she couldn’t prevent the bone-deep feeling that she was out of place.

“I’m so glad my Bio Chem class got cancelled.  This coffee break was just what I needed!”

The conversation lulled as a cute waiter came over to take their orders.  Buffy couldn’t help but blush as he openly flirted with her.  It was definitely a novel sensation.

“Yeah,” Buffy said, resuming their earlier conversation, “I didn’t know about calling you today.  I figured you’d be busy, but I thought it was worth a try.”

Willow seemed to be stuck by something and frowned.  “Buffy, what do you do all day?” she asked, knowing she had never heard Buffy mention a job and that she wasn’t in school.

“Uh,” Buffy said lamely, “not a whole lot.  I sleep late, sit around the apartment.  I clean.  Sometimes I help Angel with things if I can.”

Willow smiled, her expression a bit incredulous.  “Don’t you go insane with boredom?”

There was more smiling as the cute waiter returned and served their drinks.  As soon as he was gone, Buffy blushed, staring into her latte.  “Well, uh, I’ve kind of sort of started studying ...” she mumbled.

“Studying?” Willow said brightly.  “For what?”

Buffy looked up, wincing.  She was horribly pathetic and while she had thought she had no self-esteem to salvage, apparently she did, because the subject embarrassed her.  “I stopped going to school when I was fourteen.  I mean, the truant officers tried for a while to get me to go, but eventually even they stopped.  But now ... there’s not a lot to do during the day and so I’ve started studying for my G.E.D.”

“Buffy,” Willow exclaimed with a smile, “that’s fantastic!”

Blushing, Buffy ducked her head again.  “We’ll see if I can even pass,” she said wryly.

“You’ll pass,” Willow told her firmly.  “And then we’ll celebrate.”

Against her better judgment, Buffy couldn’t stop herself from smiling.

***

"You hear me?" Doyle prompted, raising his eyebrows at Angel.

Frowning, Angel shrugged.  "I heard," he admitted.  He wished he hadn't.  It had been a godsend when Darla jetted off to Europe shortly after their argument in the library, ostensibly to study art.  Angel knew she was just soothing her bruised ego with daddy's money and euro trash men who would fawn over her like the second coming.  But now she was back.  Fuck.

"She'll be at the annual Alpha Christmas bash Friday night.  She'll expect to see you."

Angel cursed under his breath.  Avoiding Darla would not be a good idea.  She'd track him down and the whole situation with Buffy would blow up.  Dammit.

"Buffy's looking pretty good these days," Doyle said in a calculatedly off-hand manner.

Angel narrowed his eyes at his friend.  "You've been looking at Buffy?"

Doyle smiled and held his hands up in surrender.  "Buffy and I are of the past," he said.  "In fact, I'm pretty sure Buffy and anybody who isn't Angelus Chase are firmly of the past as well."

Slightly mollified, Angel smiled a tight, mirthless smile.  "She does look good, doesn't she?" he asked.  Doyle didn't answer.  He didn't need to.  Buffy did look good.  Very good.  She hadn't had anything stronger than the occasional beer in months, with regular meals her body was now softly curved in an absolutely enticing manner.  Slowly, she was losing that vacant, skittish look.  She seemed happy, comfortable.  She even laughed and smiled now.  She was clean and soft and thanks to Angel's pocketbook, clothed in a manner to rival Cordelia.  She spent the days while Angel was at class studying and just last week had passed her G.E.D.

Doyle cleared his throat, pulling Angel from his reverie.  "You taking Buffy to the party?" he asked pointedly.

Angel snorted.  "Are you fucking insane?"

***

"You like?" Buffy asked, twirling around in front of him in an absolutely killer outfit.  The short black leather miniskirt hugged her newfound curves; the v-neck sweater was a deep crimson, made from a material that clung to her body.  Her hair was loose, trailing over her shoulders and her gorgeous legs were encased in black stiletto knee-high boots.

"I definitely like," he said, closing on her in a predatory manner.

She giggled, but made only a cursory attempt to get free when he lunged at her.  She was still laughing as he placed nipping bites along the nape of her neck.  "What's the occasion?" he asked.

She turned around in his embrace, grinning up at him.  "I thought I could wear it to the Alpha party on Friday," she said, biting down on her bottom lip and staring up at him from beneath her lashes.

“The Alpha party?” he echoed vacantly.

“Well, yeah,” she said.  “I thought we could celebrate.  I passed my G.E.D and last weekend your mother signed off on my community service papers.  I’m completely free now.  Don’t you want to go?”

“Actually, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” he said quickly, stepping away and running a hand through his hair.  “My mother wants us all to do the traditional Christmas thing together this year with just family but Dad’s on a business trip in Japan over the holiday.  So, she wants to have it over the weekend instead.  She asked me to stay at the mansion with her and Dad and Cordy Friday and Saturday night, so I won’t be able to make it to the party.”

“Just family,” she repeated, looking him over carefully.  “Isn’t there some Christmas thing at the homeless shelter over the weekend?” Buffy prodded.

“Mom is skipping out this year,” he lied.  “She has enough volunteers to handle everything without her.”

“Oh,” she said, sinking to the couch in regret.  She had been so excited about the prospect of going to the Alpha party with Angel.  She wanted to go as a normal girl with her boyfriend.  Okay, her rich and incredibly handsome boyfriend who she landed when no one else could, but still.  She also wanted to test him.  The Alpha Christmas bash was the biggest event of the year.  Anyone who was anyone was there.  Buffy hadn’t missed it in years and she knew Angel hadn’t either.  Even in a drug-induced haze, she always noticed his presence.

“We’ll still have Christmas together,” he said, sitting next to her, “just not the weekend after.”  He looked over her for a second and then took a deep breath.  “I don’t feel comfortable with you going to the Alpha house without me, Buffy.  I know you want to go to the party, but I’m asking you to stay home.”

“You don’t trust me?” she said, whipping her head to look at him.

“I trust you,” he said honestly.  “I don’t trust them.  Last time that fuck, Parker Abrams, drugged your drink.  I don’t want you to go.”

***

Buffy felt like an idiot and half wished that she still had a ready supply of oblivion in her pocket.  It was Friday night, the night of the huge Alpha bash.  She was dressed in her new outfit, her boots clicking neatly on the sidewalk.

She was actually going to the party.  Alone.

Oh, Angel would be so pissed when he found out, but that wasn't enough to stop her.  She didn't know what it was - probably some subconscious desire on her own part to sabotage the best damn relationship she was ever going to have - but she had to go.  She hadn't been to an Alpha party since before she and Angel got physical.  She wanted to make an appearance.   She wanted them to see how nice she'd cleaned up.  Of course, it would have been a thousand times better with Angel on her arm, but she'd take what she could get.

She smiled at a few guys as she walked in and they smiled back, grinning wolfishly.  It was obvious that they didn't recognize her.  It was an odd feeling, and a nice one.

"Hello, beautiful," a familiar voice crooned.

Buffy turned around and smiled at the well-dressed young man.  She knew she looked good.  She'd tried the outfit out on Angel and knew it was killer.  Combined with her upswept hairdo - with skillfully disorganized ringlets springing free - and her touch of makeup, she knew she'd never looked better.  "Hello, Riley," she purred with a grin.

He looked puzzled.  "Do we know each- "  He stopped mid-sentence.  "Buffy?" he gasped.

She smiled brightly at him and nodded.  He stared at her for a moment, eyeing her up and down, obviously shocked.

“You look…damn, you look fantastic,” he said, eyeing her more hungrily than he ever did when they were actually fucking.  It was a great feeling.  She beamed back and thanked him.

“Can I buy you a beer?” he asked, moving closer.

“I’m seeing someone,” she said, making it clear that she wasn’t sharing the goodies tonight with anyone.  He looked crestfallen for a second, but quickly recovered.

“So?” he said, offering his arm.  “A girl as beautiful as you shouldn’t have to buy her own brew.  It’s Christmas.”

As they stood in the inordinately long keg line, Riley and Buffy chatted about mundane things – things she wouldn’t have chatted with anyone about before.  Usually it was about getting drunk or stoned and getting into bed.  There was no polite conversation.  The whole experience was entirely new.

Course, Buffy wasn’t stupid enough to think that Riley wasn’t hoping she’d get drunk and do him.  He was betting on it, but he was sadly mistaken.  She was Angel’s now.  She warmed to the thought.  For the first time in her life, she was spoken for and proud of it.

After they retrieved their beer, which they sipped from large red plastic cups, Riley asked her to go downstairs to the basement.  During parties, the Alpha house was pretty much a free for all, but the real fun was in the basement.  The large, unfinished space had it’s own keg and a band – usually more than one during the party – and people danced and gyrated drunkenly.  The walls were lined with couches, but they couldn’t even see them as they descended the stairs.  There were just too many people squeezed in the space.

As she made her way to the dance floor with Riley, she saw a bunch of people she knew.  None of them, not one, recognized her.  They eyed her up and down because she looked good, but that was it.  Even the scar across her lips didn’t give her away.  With her cosmetics and the dim lighting, it had all but disappeared.

Oz’s band, Dingoes Ate My Baby, was currently playing.  She scanned them unemotionally.  With the exception of Willow’s boyfriend, she had fucked the whole band.  It seemed like a million years ago.  She couldn’t even imagine screwing any of them now.  She sighed.  She really wished Angel could have come along.

After a few dances, Buffy made her way off of the dance floor.  Her new boots were the coolest things she’d ever owned, but they were killing her feet.  She scooted along the edge of the room where the couches were lined hoping to find a place to sit.  Even the arm of a couch would be a godsend.  Riley followed closely behind her, fully intending on making a space next to her wherever she sat.

“Oh, excuse me,” she said as she bumped into a couple making out on the edge of the dance floor.  She gasped in surprise and backpedaled so quickly that she bumped into Riley and made him drop his beer when she realized that the couple in question was Darla and Angel.

She stared at them for a full thirty seconds, groping each other and making out.  All but ignoring her.  Tears filled her eyes and she snarled at the same time as she tossed her beer on the couple.  Sputtering and cursing, they both looked their attacker.

“You FUCKING DICK!” she screamed.  She stumbled away from him, barely able to see through the tears in her eyes, but she couldn’t get away nearly fast enough with all the people in her way.

“BUFFY!” Angel shouted, following her into the throng.  As he tried to leave Darla caught his arm.  “That is who you’ve been hiding from me?  You’ve been fucking Buffy Summers all this time?”

“I don’t have time for this,” he said, pulling away.

“You’re leaving me for her?” Darla raged after him.

“I fucking love her,” he cast back.  He dove back into the people in his way, pushing them harshly aside.  “Buffy!” Angel shouted.  “Wait, baby, please!”

He caught her in the living room, which was crammed with people.  They all stopped with the commotion and watched intently as Angelus Chase desperately cried out to some blonde chick who turned out to be the infamous whore, Buffy Summers.

“Buffy, please,” Angel begged, holding her shoulders tightly to keep her squirming body from escaping.

“Let me go, you cheating, lying piece of shit,” she shouted.  Tears streaked her cheeks and she was all but sobbing as she desperately tried to get away from him.

“I can explain,” Angel begged.  “Baby, please.”

A stiletto heel to his shin freed her and she backed away from him.  “You don’t have to explain, Angel.   I understand perfectly.  You lied to me so you could come here with Darla Weston.  I’m not good enough to be seen in public with but she is!  Well, fine.  Have fun with her, Angel.  You won’t have to worry about keeping me your dirty little secret anymore.”

“I love you!” Angel shouted.  “How public is that?”  He waved at the people around him, eavesdropping on their conversation.  “I love you, goddammit.”

“You don’t love anyone but yourfuckingself,” she cried.  Reaching in the tiny pocket of her skirt, she produced the key to his apartment and threw it at him.  “I’m moving out,” she announced, sniffling.  Turning, she scanned the party quickly and found that Riley had followed her upstairs.

“Riley, can you give me a ride?” she asked, but Angel grabbed him before he could answer and slammed him against the wall.

“You fucking touch her and-“

Buffy strode forward and got between them, kneeing Angel in the groin.  He immediately fell to his knees, cupping himself.  “You don’t own me, you fucking prick.”

A shaken Riley was lead through the party by Buffy and out to his car, where she too fell to her knees and wept.

***

In the end, it turned out that Riley did get Buffy Summers in his bed, but it wasn't anything like what he expected.  First off, he was on the couch.  Secondly, even with his bedroom door closed, he could hear her heartbreaking sobs.  Riley didn't know what to think, but he was too much of a nice guy to toss Buffy out into the night, especially since she obviously had nowhere to go.  It crossed his mind that six months ago, he probably wouldn't thought anything of throwing her out on her ear, but now … Now she was more than just some anonymous druggie whore.  She was a real live person.  He spent half the night talking to her.  He felt like he knew her.  She liked bad ice skating movies and nachos with extra cheese.  There was a real person with real feelings behind the mask.

It was probably close to three in the morning when Angel showed up.  He tried banging on the door for an hour.  Riley called the cops and they chased him off.  He was back an hour later, drunk out of his mind, yelling up at Riley's bedroom window, begging Buffy not to sleep with Riley, threatening her if she did, then back to begging again before he finally staggered to his car and passed out.

When Buffy finally emerged from the bedroom, it was obvious she hadn't slept a wink.  Her eyes were puffy and red.  "I'm so sorry about this, Riley," she said quietly.  "I don't know how to repay you."  Before Angel she never would have uttered those words.  She just would have offered her body to Riley.  Now, the very thought of it turned her stomach.

"Want some coffee?" he asked, motioning with his own mug.

She shook her head, swallowing thickly.  The idea of consuming anything made her stomach roil.  "I know you've already gone above and beyond the call of duty, but I'm afraid I have to ask you for one last favor …"

***

"You want to talk about it?" Jenny asked as Buffy descended the steps to the Hyperion's front desk, just having waved goodbye to Riley.

"I need a place to stay," Buffy said quietly.

Jenny pursed her lips together.  "Things go badly with Angel?"

Buffy's head snapped up and her eyes welled with tears.  She blinked quickly.  "You knew?"

"Honey, anybody who was paying the tiniest bit of attention knew."

Buffy laughed mirthlessly.  "Yeah, well, fat lot of good it does now."  She sniffled, but straightened her spine.  "Can you help me?"

Jenny seemed to consider something for a moment and then sighed.  "There are rooms here," she said.  "Or, I'm actually looking for someone to stay at my place for a while.  I'm going to England for six weeks and I really don't want to leave my apartment empty."

“Really?” Buffy said in shock.

“You’ve really turned yourself around, Buffy,” Jenny said, laying a hand on Buffy’s shoulder.  It was a gesture she never would have made six months ago.  “I know you’ll give Angel a lot of credit for it, but the choice was yours and you made it.  I’m not sure how to say this without sounding too condescending, but I’m proud of you.”

“Thank you,” Buffy said with new tears falling.  “I’ll pay rent.  I need to find a job and I’ll try to have another place to stay before you come back and I promise I won’t mess anything up and-“

“Buffy, it’s okay,” Jenny said gently.  “I trust you.”

Those were the kindest words anyone besides Angel had ever said to her.  Even as she allowed herself a few last tears, she felt stronger.  She was going to make it without Angel.  She was going to show him and everyone else that she was a real person capable of making something of herself.

Part Two

***

 


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