All the King's Horses and All the King's Men
by tango and indie
Part 1

Angel decided to go to class on Monday but he was painfully hung over.  He couldn’t believe what a fucking dumbass he had been.  A quick grope session with Darla was not worth losing Buffy.  Nothing was, but he was a day late and a dollar short.

As he headed home, he happily realized that her things were still at his place.  At least he could beg her to come home when she came back for them.  After all, she had launched her key at him at the party. She had no way back inside.

He was still comforting himself with that thought as he made his way up the sidewalk to his apartment building.  He met Lorne, the super, coming out the front door.

"Hey," Lorne said with a bright smile.

Angel grunted.

"Oh, Angelcakes," Lorne tacked on hastily.  "You need to have another key made.  I had to let your hottie little girlfriend into your apartment this morning."

Angel stopped and stared blankly at his super.  He opened his mouth and then closed it.  He felt like screaming.  "You let Buffy into the apartment?" he demanded.

Frowning, Lorne said, "Yes I did.  As a favor.  Just like the favor I did when I didn't charge you the extra two hundred dollars for adding a roommate without putting her on the lease."

Clamping his mouth shut, Angel nodded tersely and quickly turned, heading for his apartment.  He was already feeling defeated by the time he unlocked his apartment.  He thought he'd steeled himself for what he was about to see, but he hadn't.  The sight of his leather jacket hung neatly over the back of one of the chairs almost sent him crashing to his knees.  In a daze, he walked into the bedroom and found half the closet empty.  All of Buffy's things were gone.

"Fuck!" he bellowed, turning and punching the wall.  His hand throbbed, but it wasn't nearly enough.  Nothing could wipe away the pain of losing Buffy.  He'd been an idiot, a total fucking idiot.  He had the best thing that would ever happen to him in his arms and he let her get away - no, worse, he pushed her away.

He'd been so idiotically freaked out by her past that he let it destroy their future.  He'd hidden her away like some dirty secret rather than shouting his feelings from the rooftop.  She was right to hate him.  He was scum.  He'd left her alone, asked her not to go to the party.  Then he'd gone with the intention of finally breaking things off completely with Darla, only to find himself the unwitting victim of her affections.  He hadn’t instigated and he was just moving to push her away when Buffy saw.  But he’d never be able to convince her of that.  And why should she believe him?  After all, he had lied to her and gone to the party without her.

Gods, he was disgusted with himself.  He tried to imagine the situation in reverse, imagine seeing Buffy in the arms of another man.  He would have killed the son of a bitch, no questions asked.  Yet, he had the gall to beg Buffy to take him back.

Even though Angel knew he wasn't worth it, he couldn't stop.  He had to get Buffy back, no matter the cost.  He knew how wrong he had been.  He just had to make her understand that.

***

Buffy looked at the pile of clothes strewn on the floor.  None of them fit right.  Everything felt awkward and wrong.

She crumpled to the floor, tears streaming down her face.  No, the clothes were fine, it was her own skin that felt wrong.  She'd made a clean break from Angel.  She gave him back his key and his jacket.  She took her clothes.  She had her own place.  Jenny arranged a job for her working in one of the administrative offices on campus.  She was even enrolled in classes for the spring semester that started in three weeks.  But her new life felt wrong - so, so wrong.  She didn't belong in this nice apartment wearing these nice clothes.  She wasn't the kind of girl who went to college.  What was she thinking?

Buffy looked at the clock.  It was shortly after eight in the evening.  She was supposed to go out for coffee with Willow.  Buffy couldn't help but laugh.  Six months ago Willow wouldn't have given her the time of day.  She sighed.  No, that was wrong.  Willow was one of the nicest people she knew.  Willow probably would have given her the time of day, but Buffy wouldn't have deserved it then.  And she didn't deserve it now.

Cursing, Buffy dug through the rest of her clothes.  The cargo pants were long discarded, but she found a pair of vintage jeans she had bought a few weeks ago.  They were faded and worn, just like her.  She slipped them on, but she couldn't bring herself to strip out of the shirt she wore, one of Angel's undershirts, soft and still holding the faintest trace of his scent.  Buffy had worn it all week.  Now, she simply knotted the end of the shirt so it didn't look like a dress and slipped into a jean jacket that Angel had bought for her but she had never worn.  Her old army boots completed the outfit and she was out the door, heading for Spike's.

***

He whistled, lounging comfortably in the doorway.  "Well, lookie what the cat dragged in," he said with a dark smile.

"Fuck you," Buffy cursed, pushing past him and into the dingy basement apartment.

"Fuck me?" Spike demanded, obviously irritated.  "You fucking disappear on me for months without so much as a goodbye shag and I’m just supposed to invite you in with open arms?"

Buffy ignored him, throwing herself down on the disgusting couch.  "I need something," she said, her tone flat and businesslike.

"You always need something, pet," Spike drawled, closing the door and walking around the coffee table to take a seat next to her on the couch.  "But maybe I’m not interested."

Buffy snorted.  "You're always interested."

"Before," he admitted.  "But maybe now I don't want Angelus Chase's sloppy seconds."

Buffy's eyes shot to him and she clenched her jaw to keep it from trembling.

Spike merely smiled like a cat in cream.  "Yeah," he said with a satisfied sigh.  "I heard about you and the pretty boy.  Everybody has.  It's all over how you cleaned up and then got in a catfight with Darla Weston at the Alpha party.  Seems like you're the hottest thing going now.  Everybody wants a piece of you.  Even the ones that have already had a piece … which would be just about everyone, now wouldn't it, pet."

"Fuck you," she spat.

"That would be the idea, yes," he replied coolly.  "At least if you want anything from me, that is.  Like I said, usually I wouldn't touch Chase's cast offs with someone else's dick, but in this case, I think I'll make an exception.  Everybody knows how much he wants you back.  I like the idea of having something he can't have, even if it's just a little used up whore like you."

"You son of a bitch," she cursed, rising to her feet.

"Easy, pet," he placated, taking out a cigarette and lighting it.  "We're old friends.  No need to get uppity."

"Screw you.  I don't need a goddamn thing from you."  She turned on her heel and stormed out of the apartment.

Spike let her go.  Buffy knew he did it because he figured she'd be back.  Well, he was wrong.  Buffy had money and she had been intending to pay him for the drugs, any drugs.  But the idea of sleeping with Spike - she just couldn’t handle it.  She was pissed enough at Angel to kill him, but the thought of going back to Spike, of reliving the hell that used to be her life.  She couldn't do that.  She couldn't go back.  Not like that.

She needed to move forward, she thought as she stalked down the sidewalk, her cheeks once again wet with tears.  She needed to keep herself out of the gutter.  But she couldn't keep wallowing over Angel.  She had to get over him, get on with her life.

***

Lindsey's expression was decidedly apprehensive as he opened the door to his upscale condo.  "Buffy," he said warily.

She smiled at him tightly, knowing she probably looked like shit since that was definitely how she felt.  "I, uh," she said.  She shook her head, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger.  Abruptly dropping her hand, she shook her head, once again meeting Lindsey's gaze.  "Can I come in?"

He stared at he for another few heartbeats, his expression shuttered.  Without a word, he stepped aside so she could enter his home.

"I'm not interrupting, am I?" she asked tightly, feeling like a fool for having come here.  No doubt Lindsey knew what this was.  They weren't friends.  It was close to eleven and she was showing up at his place.  Lindsey wasn't stupid.  He knew this was a booty call.

Buffy didn't exactly know how she had gotten here.  Yeah, from the small talk they'd made while working together, she knew where he lived.  But she'd never been here before.  All she knew was that she couldn't go back to an empty bed.  Neither could she sleep with Spike.  She needed some comfort, some oblivion.  She wasn't willing to troll the frats or college parties looking for someone.  She couldn't go back to that.  Hooking up with Lindsey would be moving forward.

Right?

"Can I have a drink?" she asked, looking around his place.  It was neat and tidy.  The furniture looked expensive.

He took a deep breath.  "I don't generally make a habit of giving alcohol to minors," he said tightly.

"I'm not a minor," she countered.

"You're not old enough to order something in a bar."

She shrugged and decided to go for it.  Lindsey was obviously going to need some coaxing.  Slowly, she sauntered over to him.  Lindsey didn't move as she approached.  She walked up to him, their chests almost touching and she scraped one neatly filed fingernail down his sternum.  "You look lonely, Linds," she said in a near whisper.

He swallowed thickly and took a half step back, far enough to open her jean jacket.  Buffy sucked in her breath, but let him.  Slowly, he worked the material off her shoulders until it fell to the floor.  He splayed one large hand across her stomach and leaned in close.  Buffy's heart was hammering in her ears.

"You're still wearing his shirt," Lindsey whispered in her ear before turning and walking over to the bar.

Tears stung Buffy's eyes and she shook her head, trying to regain composure.  She watched Lindsey pour himself a drink and down it on one swallow.  This wasn't playing out the way she had planned.

Fuck it.  In one fluid movement, Buffy pulled Angel's undershirt over her head and dropped it to the floor.  She turned to face him wearing only the pair of tight, low-slung jeans and a pale pink demi-cup bra.  With a flick of her wrist, she pulled the tie out of her hair.  She shook her head so the long locks bounced free.

Lindsey watched her in silence.  He poured himself another drink and threw it back like the first.  Taking a deep breath, he walked over to her again.  "Put your clothes back on, Buffy," he said.  "I'll call you a cab."

"I don't want to leave," she said brashly.

"You don't know what you want," he countered, his voice hard.

"Fuck you," she snapped. "I know.  I'm not some stupid kid.  I've played this game before."

Lindsey looked at her for a long time and Buffy had the sensation that he was looking right through her.  She couldn't meet his gaze and opted for staring at the wall.  "I'd bet everything I have that you've never played it like this before," he said with finality.

Buffy's eyes snapped to him again.  "What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

He laughed mirthlessly.  "You show up at my apartment in the middle of the night looking for some alcohol and a fuck," he said crudely.  "But you do it wearing his shirt, wearing the underwear he bought you.  Hell, you even want to fuck me because I remind you of him."

She shook her head, trying to convince herself.  "That's not true," she swore.

Lindsey stepped closer again, getting right in her face.  "I'm not Angel," he said.

"I know that," she replied as haughtily as possible.

"Do you?" he asked with a cold smile.

Before Buffy could react, he had grabbed her. His lips descended upon hers with bruising pressure.  She struggled, pushing at his chest and Lindsey released her, pushing her away.  She stumbled and landed on her butt on the floor.  He smirked.  "Yeah, Summers, you really want me."

She opened her mouth to argue, but clamped it shut.  "Gee, you're a real gentleman," she snapped.

"Fine," Lindsey said with a shrug.  "You want to do this, then we'll do it.  But I'm not going to get you drunk first.  You want to fuck me, you're going to do it stone cold sober.  We'll go into my bedroom and turn on the lights so we can see each other and I'll take off all those pretty little clothes that Angel bought you and then I'll fuck you."

As he said the words, the images formed in Buffy's mind.  By the time he finished, tears were streaming down her cheeks.

Lindsey looked at her tears and sighed.  Dropping into a squat, he handed her back the undershirt.  "Fucking me won't be the same as making love to Angel," he said, his voice softer.  "And it won't make the pain go away.  It'll only make you hate yourself more."

She looked up at him, her cheeks wet.  "I just want it to stop hurting," she whispered pitifully.

Lindsey looked away.  "Put your clothes on, Buffy," he said.  "I'll drive you home."

***

Lindsey had walked Buffy to the door and was heading back to his car when Angel stepped out of the darkness.  "You fucking start something and I swear I will beat you to death," Lindsey growled.

Angel stopped short.  Why was Lindsey pissed?  That shithead didn't have any reason to be mad.  Angel was the one who had the right to be mad!

Lindsey took advantage of Angel's confusion and continued.  "I didn't touch her," he bit out.  "She wanted me to, but I didn't.  You better fucking remember that."

Angel watched Lindsey storm off to his car and he yelled, "What the fuck is your problem?"

Lindsey stopped in his tracks and turned to face Angel.  "You stupid son of a bitch," Lindsey cursed.  "You had to lose her before you had a fucking clue.  You don't deserve her.  You don't deserve any of them.  It's all one big game to you."

"None of this is your business," Angel said darkly.

Snorting, Lindsey countered, "When your business shows up on my doorstep asking me for a fuck, it becomes my business."

"I swear, if you touched her - "

"I didn't touch her, you asshole.  She showed up at my place looking so damn sad and vulnerable and so fucking sexy even her goddamn tears got me hard, but I didn't touch her."

Angel growled, but Lindsey ignored him.  "I didn't touch her because even though you're the biggest fucking waste of space I know, she loves you.  You don't deserve a bit of it, but she does.  And I know that even though you were late to the game, that you love her."

Angel stared at Lindsey in undisguised confusion.  "What's your deal?"

"I loved Darla," Lindsey spat.  "You knew that and you fucked her.  And she fucked you back because your dad is a hot shot businessman and mine was a goddamn janitor."

Angel opened his mouth to defend himself, but he couldn't.  Lindsey was right.  Slowly, he closed his mouth.  "My dad always respected your dad," he finally said.

"You and Darla are a pair of fucking vipers," Lindsey swore with disgust.  "And you have no idea how much I wanted to screw your little girlfriend.  But I didn't because even though Buffy thought she wanted it, she never would have forgiven herself.  And as much as I want to get even, I'm not going to destroy her to do it."

Disgusted beyond belief, Lindsey turned and walked to his car.  Angel stared after him.  "Thank you," he said quietly.

"Eat shit and die," Lindsey replied without slowing down.

***

"You look like shit," Doyle said, stepping over leftover pizza boxes to take a seat on Angel's couch.

"Thanks," Angel said dryly.  He needed to be prepping lessons for Professor Kerr, but he couldn't seem to get motivated.

"You're fallin' apart, man," Doyle said seriously, shaking his head.

Angel shrugged.  Doyle, of course, was right.  Angel was falling apart.  And he had no one to blame but himself.  What had he thought?  That he could keep Buffy like some goddamn house pet?  Of course she wanted to go out.  Of course she wanted to be seen.  But he'd pushed aside so many of her needs because of his ridiculous damn pride.  Because he didn't want people to think of him as the schmuck who was landed by some dirty little druggie who had fucked half the UCLA student body.

Angel knew that he deserved whatever misery he got.  And he was in misery.  Misery that tore at his very soul.  He hadn't realized it until he'd shouted it at her in front of three hundred witnesses, but he did love her.  He loved her so much that the thought of his life without her in it was enough to make him crawl inside a bottle and never come out.

So now he followed her around.  A lot.  Buffy was right, it was stalking.  But he also knew that she wasn't anything if not a woman of means.  If she hadn't wanted him following her, he wouldn't be following her.  The fact that she allowed it at all was proof of the fact that she still cared a little.

Wasn't it?

***

“Buffy please,” Angel pleaded from his car window as he followed her down the street from her apartment towards campus.  “Just get in the car and we can talk.”

“We've been over this before, Angel.  This is stalking,” she rebuffed, keeping a steady gait.  “It's illegal.  I could have you arrested.”

She sighed.  This was a daily ritual.  Every day when she left the house he was waiting for her and every day he followed her all the way to campus, begging her to talk to him.  The first week was the hardest of her life.  She wanted nothing more to climb into that car, to climb back into his life, but she steeled her resolve.  She couldn’t let him win.  She’d let every last motherfucker in her life destroy her, tear her down, make her feel like nothing and even though she loved him with every last fiber of her being, he was the last person on Earth who was ever going to make her feel like that.

So she walked.  Every day, she walked alone and he drove slowly beside her.  Weeks turned to months and he wouldn’t give up and neither would she.  She risked a glance over at him.  It was also part of the ritual.  He took it to mean she was weakening and he was right, but she didn’t ever climb into his car.

“If you would just give me a chance, Buffy,” he called out across the yards that separated them, “I could make everything up to you.  I love you.  I know you care about me too.  Please, baby.”

“No, Angel,” she said, not slowing or speeding up her pace.  She didn’t know why she answered him.  She didn’t know why she didn’t just ignore him.  She just couldn’t.  Just like she couldn’t tell him she didn’t love him.

She made it to campus yet another day and disappeared across the quad.  Angel drove off without a word, but she knew in the evening when she got off work he would be there again to follow her home.  She waved at Willow as she approached the fountain by the administrative building and smiled.  Her newfound friend was a bright spot in her life now.  She accepted the coffee her friend held out, thanking her.

“Angel there again today?” Willow asked.

“You know he was,” Buffy answered dryly.  “Where else would he be?”

“I saw him over the weekend,” she said as they sipped their coffee perched on the edge of the fountain.  This was also becoming a daily ritual.  Buffy treasured both in their own way.

“So?” Buffy said, trying to sound more callous than she felt.  By now, Willow saw right through her and didn’t bother being offended.

“He’s drinking more and more.  He doesn’t even look at other women,” Willow said.  “And he’s started doing the strangest thing.”

”What?” Buffy asked, turning toward Willow curiously.

“He tells everyone he meets that he’s in love with you.”

“What?” Buffy asked, astounded.  “What, like, ‘Hi, I’m Angel and I love Buffy?’”

“Uh, yeah,” Willow said, shaking her head.  “Pretty much.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah,” Willow concurred.

***

Angel was taking his nightly swing past the apartment Buffy shared with Jenny in the off chance he might see her when a familiar bleached blonde got out of an old beat up car and headed for the door.  Angel slammed on the brakes, threw it into park and ran up to where Spike was a few steps from the door.

“Hey!” Spike shouted as Angel grabbed the labels of his leather duster and yanked him roughly away from Buffy’s door.  “Watch it, mate,” Spike said, pulling himself away from Angel so suddenly, they both stumbled.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Angel snarled.

“Just stopping by to see an old friend,” Spike said, straightening his coat.  “Can’t see how it’s your business, since you’ve been dropped like a bad habit and all.”

“So have you,” Angel said.  “I don’t want you or the shit you pimp anywhere near her.”

Spike looked over the rich boy for a second before chuckling.  “It must just kill you that I got there first, Angelus,” Spike said, looping his thumbs in the pockets of his black jeans, smiling into the memory.  “I had the bint when she was fifteen and high as a kite, with those dimpled knees of hers spread for me. Yeah, I bet you wish-“

Spike’s words were cut off when Angel pounced, knocking Spike to the ground with one sucker punch to the nose.  Spike howled on the way down and found to get his bearings, but Angel kept hitting him again and again, punctuating his words with each punch.  “Don’t. You. Ever. Come. Near. Her. Again.”

“Angel!” Buffy shouting, running out the apartment and pulling him back off of Spike’s bloody form.  “What are you doing?”

He opened his mouth to speak but she immediately spoke again, “Never mind. I don’t care.”  She looked from Angel to Spike and back again before backing away.

“You aren’t welcome here,” she said.  “I just want to be left alone.”

“And make sure you don’t ever fucking come back,” Angel growled out as Spike made it to his feet.

“You too, Angel,” Buffy said.  Angel’s mouth dropped open and Spike grinned happily despite his broken face.  “Neither one of you are welcome here,” Buffy said before going back inside.

Angel stood there and stared at her door with his mouth hanging open in shock and Spike laughed all the way back to his car.

***

Buffy gasped, pushing herself back from the table she shared with Willow as a cup of steaming coffee splashed over the front of her shirt and pants.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Darla cooed with obvious enjoyment.  "I must have slipped."

Buffy stared up at the woman, shaking with rage and pain.  The coffee had been scalding hot and she could feel burns forming where it had splashed on her bare forearms.  "Bitch," Buffy hissed.

"Yes," Darla replied with a smug smile.  "And isn't payback wonderful?  Hope the coffee keeps you warm at night, because I know Angel isn't.  He may have had some little fling with you.  Every man needs variety.  But in the end, I'm the one that fits in his life, not you.  Have a nice evening."

“Hey Darla,” Buffy said, using a napkin to pat the coffee casually on her arms as if it didn’t burn.  She waited as Darla pivoted gracefully to face her.

“Angel’s with me every fucking day, bitch,” Buffy said, baring her teeth.  “How often is he with you?”

***

It was early in the morning on a Wednesday four months and four days after the Alpha Christmas bash when Buffy’s phone started ringing.  She groaned and looked at the clock.  It was seven AM.  She groaned again.  Wednesday was her day to sleep in because her first class was at ten.  She was going to strangle the person who had the gall to call that damn early.

“Hello?” she mumbled into the phone with her eyes still closed.

“Miss Summers?” an unfamiliar female voice returned.

“Uh huh,” she grunted back.

“I apologize for calling at this early hour, Miss Summers.  I’m Lilah Morgan with the law firm Wolfram and Hart.  I regret to inform you that your stepfather, Mr. Ethan Rayne, passed away,” Lilah said in a very cool, professional voice.

“Oh shit,” Buffy said, sitting up in bed.  “What happened?”

“He had a massive overdose and was found dead when an anonymous person called an ambulance.  It appeared that he had been dead for twenty-four hours when he was found.  We’d like you to come in to discuss the property and burial of Mr. Rayne as you are his last living relative.”

“I’m not his relative,” Buffy said, staring blankly at the bedspread.  She clenched her jaw and closed her eyes again.  “Ethan was married to my mother.  I haven’t spoken to him in almost a year.”

”Be that as it may, Miss Summers, the house reverts to your ownership.  I would like to discuss the details with you in person if you could come in and meet with me.”

Buffy made the appointment with Lilah for that morning and by the time she hung up the phone her whole body was shaking.  Panic filled her as she thought about dealing with Ethan’s death alone.  Tears filled her eyes and flowed down her cheeks.

She hated that bastard.  He raped and beat her and did everything he could to destroy her, maybe because her mother was gone, maybe because he could only abuse himself so much.  She never knew.  She spent countless nights washing the stench of him off, cleansing the wounds he had inflicted and wishing him dead.  She had thought about ways to kill him, to stab him to death in his sleep, but she never went through with it.

Her house, her mother’s house, was waiting for her to claim it and she couldn’t seem to wade through the memories, to separate the good from the bad.  The last thing her mother had left her had died.  As horrible as Ethan was, her mother had loved him.  Buffy spent years trying to figure out why.

With a shaking hand, she picked up the phone and dialed.  She held her breath and tried not to cry out loud.  She let the phone ring until the answering machine picked up.  She listened closely to the melodious, deep rumbling of Angel’s voice.  When the beep sounded, she didn’t say anything for a couple of seconds, then finally she said quietly, “Angel, are you there?”

No answer came and just as she was about to hang up, he picked up the line.  His voice was groggy and thick with sleep as he said, “Buffy? Is that you?”

“Angel…” she said, sniffling.  “I need a favor, okay?”

“What’s wrong?” he asked, worried.  “Are you alright?”

“Can you just come get me?” she asked in a whisper.

“Ten minutes,” he said and hung up.  Sleepily, she trudged to the shower and turned the water on as hot as she could stand.  She felt like she was washing him off all over again.

***

By the time she finished in the shower, Angel was in the living room, seated at the small table.  He was holding a cup of coffee though it didn't look like he'd taken a drink.  Jenny was leaning against the doorway to the kitchen watching him like a hawk.

Normally, Jenny would have already been at the shelter, but she'd turned in her resignation two weeks ago.  Jenny returned from her trip to England, three weeks after Buffy had initially moved in, newly engaged.  Rather than helping Buffy find a new place to stay, Jenny simply let her stay in the spare bedroom and they both saved money on rent.  Now, Jenny was planning to move permanently to England to be with her future husband, Rupert Giles, and Buffy was in the process of looking for her own, smaller, apartment.

"Didn't mean to interrupt your packing," Buffy said quietly to Jenny.

"It's not a problem," Jenny said tightly.  She motioned to Angel.  "He swears that you asked him to come over.  If he's lying, I'm calling his mother right now."

Angel's look of indignation would have made Buffy laugh if her insides weren't twisted in knots.  "I asked him," she said quietly.

Nodding, Jenny turned and went back into her bedroom to resume packing.  Angel quickly scrambled to his feet.  "What's wrong?" he asked.

Buffy opened her mouth, but nothing would come out.  She clamped it shut tightly, her eyes shimmering with tears.  A sob tore out of her throat and then another.  "Ethan's dead," she managed to choke.

“I thought you hated him,” Angel said softly.  He reached out to touch her and then pulled away.  A second time he reached out and brushed a tear from her cheek, then retreated once more, unsure of what he should do.

“I do,” she said sobbing.  “I did.”

Angel pulled her into his arms and she wept silently.  The feeling of her nestled against his chest, even if she was crying, felt so right.  He was proud that he was the one she called rather than anyone else, that he could be the one to comfort her.  He only wished that this was a small step in the direction of healing what was between them.  Maybe if she trusted him with this she would be willing to take another step toward forgiving him.

When she finished, she pushed herself away from him reluctantly and wrapped her arms around herself.  “My mother loved him,” Buffy said quietly.  “He was all I had left of her.  I don’t know why I feel so sad about that bastard’s death.”

“It’s okay to be sad about it, Buffy,” Angel offered.

“I have an appointment to meet with this lawyer in an hour.  I don’t want to go by myself,” Buffy admitted.  “What if she treats me like I’m a piece of trash?  What if I can’t understand everything?”

“No one will ever treat you like you’re trash again,” he said, clenching his jaw.  “And you’re smarter than you think you are, Buffy.  You would be fine without me, but I’ll be happy to go with you.”

“Thank you,” she sniffled.  “There is one condition of this trip and you have to agree before we go.”

“Okay….”

“No talk about getting me back or about what happened before,” she ordered.  “I just need you to be my friend.”

“I can do that,” he managed to choke out, but his heart sank.   Maybe this wasn’t going to be a way to have a second chance after all.

***

Buffy couldn't stop shaking.  Angel had given up trying to calm her down and watched her pace around her small living room.  "What am I going to do?" she demanded, her voice tinged with hysteria.  "I don't have the kind of money they want."

"Look," Angel said smoothly, "we'll get a lawyer to look at this.  There has to be a way out.  Ethan wasn't even your father.  This can't be legal."

"They're going to take everything," she cried.  "They're going to auction off my mother's house."

"Buffy," Angel said, gently clasping her hands in his own.  "I promise, sweetheart, I'll make it better."

"You can't promise that," she yelled.  "You don't know."

Sighing, Angel gave up.  He walked over to the phone and dialed.  "Linds," he said.  "It's Angel."  He was quiet for a few minutes.  "Yeah, okay.  Fine.  I'll be sure to eat shit and die, now will you just listen to me for a second?"

***
 

"This is absurd," Lindsey said, leafing through the stack of legal documents Lilah Morgan had given her earlier this afternoon.  "Those bloodsucking bastards are trying to take you.  Whoever drafted this is counting on the fact that you will be so scared you will just roll over and do whatever they say."

"So we have a chance?" Buffy asked, hopeful despite her better judgment.

“We have more than that, Buffy,” Lindsey said, setting down the paperwork and looking at her and deliberately ignoring Angel.  “Your mother left the house to you, not Ethan, but you were too young to take ownership so it was left in Ethan’s care as your guardian until you were old enough.”

“She left the house to me?” Buffy whimpered, her eyes filling with tears for the thousandth time that day.  “It’s mine?”

“Yes, it is yours, Buffy,” Lindsey said, “but the debt is not.  In fact, you’re not legally obligated to bury that piece of shit either.  They’re trying to satisfy his debtors by the sale of the house and then putting it on you, but if you don’t sign this, it won’t wash.  I’ll go talk to Lilah and we’ll have this settled before dinnertime.”

”And I’ll have my house?” she asked hopefully.

“You’ll have your house,” he affirmed, nodding.  He stood and was gathering the papers when Buffy launched herself into his arms, hugging him tightly.  “Thank you so much,” she whispered, pressing their bodies together in a way that made Angel want to cry out in fury, but he said nothing.

When Lindsey walked out, Angel walked with him.  “Look, I’ll really appreciate what you did for Buffy today,” Angel said.  “If you have a fee for this, I’ll cover it.”

“I don’t want a godamn thing from you,” Lindsey snarled.  “I’m doing this for Buffy, because she deserves more than you.  Not everyone who makes the mistake of becoming your friend should be hung out to dry.”

“Linds, I didn’t know you loved Darla, if that’s any consolation,” Angel said quietly.

“The fuck you didn’t,” Lindsey spat back.

“I knew you liked her,” Angel said, “but I didn’t know you were in love with her.  You know that with Darla it doesn’t matter.  She takes what she wants and she doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings but her own.”

“Eat shit and die,” Lindsey growled again.  “I don’t want to talk about this again.  That is the price of this little session with Buffy.”  He climbed into his truck, started it and then rolled down the window.  He propped his arm out and looked at his former friend.  “You know, I think our little Buffy’s getting over you.  Maybe I’ll ask her out.”

“You son of a bitch,” Angel roared, but Lindsey had already peeled away from the curb.  He watched the truck for a long time, until it was completely gone and then turned toward the apartment.  He hated to admit it but he was beginning to think that despite what Buffy felt, that she was never going to let him back into her life again.  He followed her every day, tried everything he could think of but she still hadn’t budged.  How long was he going to beg?

Sighing, he headed back to the apartment.  He found Buffy daydreaming by the window holding a cup of coffee in her hands.  She looked gorgeous there with her hair down around her shoulders, streaming down her back.  She had gotten it cut awhile back, just a couple of inches, and it seemed bouncier and healthier than it ever had before.

“Hey,” he said quietly.

She turned around to face him and took a sip of her coffee.  “I appreciate what you did today,” she said.  “I know it wasn’t easy to call Lindsey for help.”

“I did it for you,” he said, snagging his keys from the table and slipping them into his pocket.  “I’d do anything for you, Buffy, but you should know that by now.”

He looked over at her for a second and felt his heart breaking.  She was never going to take him back again and he knew it now.  The idea of spending every day and night without her for the rest of his life was too much to think about.

“I’m going to go,” he mumbled.  “I’ll see you around, Buffy.”

***

Lindsey had called her later that night informing her that the lawyer at Wolfram and Hart were pissed, but that they wouldn’t bother her anymore.  Buffy had cried in relief, thanking Lindsey before she hung up the phone.

First thing the next morning, Lindsey picked her up.  They went down to the courthouse and made sure all of the documents were in order.  The house was Buffy's.  Lindsey had also made the startling discovery while researching Buffy's plight that Joyce had left a few investments for Buffy - investments that she'd made when Buffy was just a baby and that had never had Ethan's name added to them.  It wasn't a lot of money, a little over fifteen thousand dollars, but it was more than enough to begin the work to make the house habitable again.  Between what she'd learned working on campus and her own frugal nature, Buffy was certain she could restore her home to its former glory without going over budget.

She met Willow for a late lunch to tell her the good news and then almost missed her afternoon Sociology class.  After that, she caught a bus over to one of the giant home improvement stores where she priced materials and looked at paint swatches, tile, carpeting and a billion other items.  That took hours and it was late evening by the time she arrived back at home.  After a quick shower, she was sitting on the couch looking over her notes, doing some calculations when it hit her.  She hadn't seen Angel all day.

She tried to shrug it off, but it kept nagging at her.  He hadn't been there.  For the first time in months, he wasn't the first person she saw in the morning.

She tried to be casual about it the next morning, but after fifteen minutes of milling around in front of her apartment, she decided that he really wasn't going to show.  She didn't know why it bothered her.  It shouldn't have.  She'd been telling him to get lost for months. Now, she was beginning to wonder if she had ever really meant it.  She was walking to the bus stop when Gunn pulled up beside her in his beat up old truck.

"Hey," Buffy said, confused.

"Hey back," Gunn replied.  He opened the door and Buffy crawled in.  "Stopped by the shelter this morning and Jenny was there.  She told a few of us regulars about your new house.   I figured you might need some help.  You really can't ferry supplies on the bus and the delivery fees from those places are murder."

Buffy smiled, sniffling.

"Whoa," Gunn said, "I wasn't trying to upset you."

"You didn't," she said quietly.  "It's just … really nice."

They had just pulled up to the house with their second load of supplies when Buffy realized that the front door to her house was open.  She wasn't particularly worried about the house being damaged - it really couldn't get much worse - but it would be just her luck if all the supplies she just bought had been stolen.

She was jogging up to the door when Lindsey stepped outside.  He was wearing a ratty old t-shirt and pair of ripped jeans.  His entire body was powdered with a fine white dust.  He smiled and it was so damn sexy, Buffy couldn't help but smile back.

"Hey, darlin," he drawled.  "Really hoping the living room was going to have the dry wall replaced because … uh …" He held up a pry bar.  "We took all the old stuff down."

Cocking her head, Buffy said, "We?"

Lindsey rolled his eyes.  "Your stalker's inside sulking," he said.  "But at least the son of a bitch is strong.  He's working out some issues on your house.  Took us half the time I was estimating to get done."

Buffy rolled her eyes too, but had to smile.  If Angel was over here working on her house, he couldn't be completely over her.  She walked into the living room and saw that Angel was like a whirling dervish.  All of the drywall in the living room was gone, the furniture was in the dining room, the mess was cleared and Angel was already replacing the drywall.

He didn’t bother looking in their direction at all.  His old jeans and t-shirt seemed to be hanging off of him and it was then that she realized how much weight he had lost.  She saw that there were dark circles under his eyes when he bothered to look in her direction.  With a sigh, she headed out to help Gunn unload the truck.

“Buff, you hanging on to any of this furniture?” Gunn asked, looking over the stuff that was now piled in the dinning room.

“Uh…” she said, looking over it all.  She hadn’t really gotten that far in her plans.  “Anything that’s wood can be refinished, I guess,” she said thoughtfully.  “I definitely want to get rid of that nasty couch and the bed in my mother’s room.  Every single thing in my old room has to go too.  Anything else that can’t be fixed or that’s ruined we should toss.”

“I’ll get your ex-lump to help us lug it out,” Lindsey said.  “We’ll haul it over to the junkyard.”

“Thanks guys,” Buffy said, hurrying over to kiss both of them on the cheek.  “You don’t know how much your help means to me.”

“No worries, Buff,” Gunn said, winking.  “I just expect a cold beer at the end of the day…and maybe some pizza.”

“I can do that,” she said with a smile.

***

The guys brought back lunch when they were done moving the furniture, but she noticed that Angel didn’t eat.  He slammed a beer and then kept working.  When they stopped working that night, he didn’t stay for dinner, he grumbled a goodnight and promised to be back the next day before heading out to his car.

Buffy watched from the door as he drove away, her face showing her concern.  Angel usually ate at least as much as she did but it looked like he hadn’t had a thing all day.  He looked horrible.  She heard footsteps behind her as she looked out and knew it was Lindsey.

“He doesn’t look good,” Buffy said quietly.  “I’m worried.”

“He definitely looks like shit, darlin’,” Lindsey agreed.  “But then he’s been on a mainly liquid diet since you left him.  I hear he does have a nice collection of pizza boxes stacking up at his place, so he is eating something.  Or fuck, maybe it’s art.”

“I don’t know what to do,” she confided.  She shut the door and then turned around to face Lindsey.  She crossed her arms over her chest and met his gaze.

“He doesn’t deserve you,” Lindsey growled, clenching his jaw in anger.

“I love him,” Buffy said, her eyes welling with tears.  “I can’t stand to see him this way.”

“It’s his own fault,” he answered.  “He fucked you over, just like he fucks everyone over.  He treated you like a piece of shit, when it should have been the other way around.  That bastard destroys everything he touches.  I’m glad he’s hurting.  It’s about fucking time.”

“He hurt you too.”

“Yeah, him and that bitch he cheated on you with,” Lindsey admitted, “but that’s in the past.  Now we’re talking about you.”

“And you think I should just walk away from the only man I’ve ever loved?” Buffy whispered painfully.

“No, darlin’, I don’t.  It’s a damn fucking shame, but I don’t think that at all.  Just because I can’t stand him doesn’t mean you should spend your life missing him.”

***

"I thought you made a firm vow not to give me alcohol," Buffy admonished Lindsey with a small grin.  They were in a rundown little bar called Willy's.  Buffy was shocked that she'd never heard of the place before.  She was certain she knew every dive in L.A.  Linds was a regular, apparently, and they didn't card hard, so they were sharing a couple beers.

Lindsey smiled and slid the beer across the table to her.  "It wasn't a hard and fast rule," he said.  "Just something particular to that moment in time."

Buffy laughed mirthlessly.  "I was a mess," she said quietly.

"You were a mess," Lindsey agreed, taking a swig of beer.

"And you were a perfect gentleman," Buffy continued.

Lindsey waggled his eyebrows.  "I was hard as a rock and I wanted to fuck you on my living room floor."

Buffy stared at him blankly for several heartbeats before letting out a loud cackle of laughter.  She laughed until tears were streaming down her cheeks.  "I never knew," she admitted.

Lindsey cocked an eyebrow.  "I'm not sure if I should be offended by that comment or not," he said.

"Not," Buffy assured him.  "And thanks, Linds.  You were a real friend that night and I appreciate it."

He shrugged and glanced at the bar.  He went still, his expression sobering.  Buffy followed his line of sight and saw Angel sitting at the bar watching them.  Buffy didn't know when he'd come in, but it was apparent he had been watching them for quite some time.  He probably saw her braying like a damn hyena.

Buffy swallowed thickly, looking away from Angel.  She took a drink of her beer.  "Did you love her?" she asked bluntly.

"Darla?" Lindsey mused, knowing exactly what she was talking about.  "I thought I did at the time.  I don't know.  I mean, isn't love perception?  If I thought I was in love, does that mean I really was?"  He took another drink.  "Whatever it was, I wanted her.  Exclusively.  I thought she felt the same way, but looking back, I think that's what I wanted to see.  I stopped by her apartment early one morning - ran into Angel coming out."

"I'm thinking that didn't go over well," Buffy said with wide eyes.

"You could say that," Lindsey said darkly.

Buffy picked at the label on her beer bottle for a few moments.  "So … uh … Angel and Darla?" she prompted, almost choking on the bitch's name.  "Were they?"

Lindsey snorted so loudly Buffy thought half the bar probably heard it.  "Definitely not.  They're both hedonists.  They enjoyed each other, but I'm not sure they even actually liked each other very much.  I don't think Darla is capable of caring about anyone or anything.  I didn't think Angel was either."

Buffy took a deep breath.  "And now you think?"

Lindsey shook his head.  "I don't know," he said.  "I think he's pretty damn miserable without you.  He's a shithead and I have no desire to see the two of you back together.  But I think yeah, he does love you."

Buffy blinked back her tears.  "Seeing him with Darla … "

“Knowing Darla, she climbed all over him the second he was at the party,” Lindsey said, taking another swig of his beer.  “I hate to defend the bastard, but she takes over the men she’s with.  She always gets what she wants…except this time.”

“Are you so sure?” Buffy said, looking down into her half empty drink.

”He hasn’t been with her,” Lindsey said firmly.

“How can you be so sure?” Buffy asked.  “He could be screwing her every night and I wouldn’t know about it.  I ran into her at the coffee shop the other day and she insinuated-“

“No one who had been riding Darla every night would look like he does now.  I guarantee you that much, darlin’.  Besides, she came to me the other night.”

“What?” Buffy said, her eyes widening. “Did you…uh…did you two…?”

“Hell yes,” Lindsey said chuckling.  “I hate the bitch, but I have no problem whatsoever fucking her.  I see it as revenge.  Anyway, my point is that if she was fucking him she wouldn’t be with me.  She’s only with me when he’s not available.”  Lindsey paused and looked over to where Angel was drilling holes in them with his eyes.  “Look at that loser,” Lindsey chuckled.  “He hasn’t had any since you left him.”

***

When Lindsey took her home that night, Angel followed.  He knew they saw him and he didn’t give a rat’s ass.  He just had to know if Lindsey was sleeping with her.  That’s all.  He wasn’t sure what he would do if he was, considering Buffy would never speak to him again if he beat up her shiny new friend, but he would have thought of something.

Thankfully, Lindsey gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek and went back out to his car.  He smiled menacingly at Angel and then drove away.  Angel watched Buffy go inside, watched the lights turning on and then awhile later turning off again as she went to bed.  He slouched in his front seat and closed his eyes.

He had to accept the facts.  Buffy was a beautiful and now well-adjusted girl.  She didn’t need him anymore; she didn’t trust him and she sure as hell didn’t love him.  She wasn’t taking him back.  Just thinking those thoughts made his stomach flip flop.  He fucked up and had lost the only woman he had ever loved.  She was gone.  Permanently.

His eyes pricked with the first tears he had even thought about shedding since he broke three ribs in the sixth grade falling out of his tree house.  He started the car and headed straight to the liquor store where he bought enough Jack Daniels to intoxicate a small village and went home.

“Fuck it,” he said as he entered his apartment and opened the first bottle.  “Fuck it all.”

***

The following morning it took Angel almost five full minutes to realize that the pounding wasn't actually his brain trying to break through the top of his skull.  "Fuck.  Off!" he yelled, then instantly regretted it, clutching his head.  But the pounding didn't stop.

Bleary eyed and about as amenable as a bear with one foot in a trap, he stalked to the door and yanked it open.

"Buffy?" he said lamely.

She smiled brightly at him, but as she looked him over from head to foot, the smile died.  "Jesus Christ, Angel," she swore.  "You look like shit."

"Yeah, well," he blustered, trying to think up some excuse.  But she was right.  He did look like shit.  He wilted, slouching against the door.  "What do you want, Buffy?" he asked quietly.

"I want you to go take a shower," she said.  "And then I want you to put on some clean clothes."

"Why?"

"Because I'm taking you out for breakfast," she informed him.

His stomach roiled at the thought.  "Buffy, I don't really think …"

"I don't care what you think," she informed him curtly.  "It isn't up for discussion.  Go.  Shower."

Despite feeling like death warmed over, Angel dutifully trudged to the shower.  While he was trying not to die in the bathroom, Buffy grimaced, looking over his apartment.  Good gods, he'd trashed the place.  Rolling her eyes, she opened up the sliding glass doors that led out to the small balcony.  The place smelled like a bar.  She snagged a trash bag from under the kitchen sink and began tossing pizza boxes, empty beer bottles, cigarettes, fast food wrappers.  She waited until the shower cut off before she started the load of laundry she had put together from the clothes scattered all over the apartment.  One load would get him started, but it would probably take another six or seven to wash everything.  The sheets probably needed to be burned.

Angel stepped out of the shower, a towel wrapped around his waist.  Buffy was careful to keep her expression neutral, but inside she was in turmoil.  How could someone look so awful and so damn good all at the same time?

"Buffy," he said wearily.  He honestly didn't know if he could do this.  Working at her house was one thing, but sitting down and having a civilized breakfast with her like they were … like they were fucking FRIENDS might just kill him.  "I don't know if we should do this."

"Really?" she said skeptically.  "Well, good thing for you I do know.  I know we're going to go to breakfast, now go get changed."

He looked around the apartment and his expression became sheepish.  "Buffy, you shouldn't have picked up, really - "

"Turnabout is fair play, Angel," she said firmly.  "You took care of me when I needed it, now I’m taking care of you."

Nodding curtly, knowing he wasn’t going to get out of the friends discussion, he went to his room and managed to find a pair of clean pants and a shirt.  Miraculously, they matched each other.  As he was dressing, Buffy continued to clean the apartment.  She made piles of dirty clothes that would be his next loads of laundry, then got out his cleaning supplies and started to do a once over with antibacterial spray.

When he came out, she smiled at him.  “Much better,” she said, crossing to the sliding glass doors.  “I’m closing these but when we get back you should open them again and air this place out.  It smells horrible in here.”

“Buffy…” Angel started, unsure of what was going on.

“Come on,” she said.  “Get your keys.  Are you too hung over to drive?”

“No, but-“

“Good, let’s go then,” she prompted holding the door open expectantly.  She followed him out to the car and climbed in beside him.  They headed over to the greasy spoon that the college kids like to frequent because it was cheap and open twenty-four hours.

Once they ordered and had received their coffee, Angel stared into his like he expected it to talk to him rather than the beautiful girl across the table.  He didn’t want to do this, couldn’t just be her friend.  He’d rather rack himself with a hammer than pretend he didn’t love her.  It was fucking ridiculous.

Just as he was working up the balls to tell her that, she spoke.  “I love you, Angel,” she said quietly.  “I love you so much I wanted to kill you when I saw you at that party.”

“Buffy, I-“

“Shut up,” she snapped.  “I know you love me too.  I know you want me back and I wish I could just erase what happened and be with you, but I can’t.”

“I see,” he grunted, taking a drink of the bitter, overly strong coffee the diner served.

“You made me feel like I was nothing, like I was a useless whore,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.  “I thought things were going to be different because I loved you so much, but they were worse.  No one in my life has ever hurt like you did.  Not even Ethan was able to hurt me that badly because I didn’t love him, but gods, I loved you.  I would have done anything for you, Angel.  Anything except sit in the dark and be your whore.”

“I’m so sorry, Buffy,” Angel said.  “If I could take it back, I would.  I love you so much.  I know I fucked up, but it was me, not you, that was the problem.”

“I know that,” she clipped.  “You’re a fucking asshole.”

He hung his head and nodded, looking into his coffee cup.

“But you’re my asshole and I love you,” she said quietly.  “And I’m willing to start over, if you want to try.”

Angel’s head snapped up and he scooted out of his booth seat and crossed over to hers.  Sliding in beside her, he pulled her into his arms and crushed her to him.  “I swear I’ll make it up to you, Buffy.”

They ignored the people around him as they clung together.  The waitress came with their food and set it down, but they didn’t even notice it was there.  After long minutes, they pulled back enough to look at each other and kissed softly.  Finally, he made his way over to his own seat again and felt like a new man.  Ravenously, he dug into his breakfast.

Buffy sat back, grinning like and idiot and sipping her coffee as she watched him.  She'd always wondered before why Angel watched her eat, but now she sort of got it.

***

"Okay," Buffy said, handing Angel a swiffer duster, "now get the top of the television and then the bookcase."

He stared at her in undisguised irritation.  After going back to his place after breakfast, she'd re-opened the patio doors, started another load of laundry and cleaned the kitchen.  While he appreciated the effort, he didn't want to clean.  He didn't want a dust free environment.  He wanted smoochies and - god willing - make up sex.

She smiled at him.  "Go, Angel," she said.  "I'm going to change the sheets on the bed."

She had stripped the old sheets and managed to get the clean fitted sheet on before he attacked her.  Buffy was shocked he waited that long.  With a shriek of delight, she tumbled across the bed with him.  Laughing, she tried to get away.  "We're supposed to meet the guys over at my house at noon," she said.  "We don't have time for this."

He pinned her to the bed, sucking on her earlobe.  "Fuck Gunn and Lindsey," he bit out, stripping her shirt over her head.  “I’ve been waiting months for you,” he said as he kissed down her neck and shoulder.  “They can wait an hour…or two.”

She giggled as he tried to keep his mouth on her nipple and remove his clothes at the same time.  He finally managed to free his cock from his jeans and pull off her pants and panties.  Seconds later he was inside her and he hissed in pleasure as he was in engulfed in her tight, wet heat.  He groaned and buried his face in her neck, moving in short, hard thrusts.

“You forgot the condom,” Buffy panted, wrapping her legs around his waist.  She had no interest whatsoever in having him stop.  It had been so long and he felt so good.  She never stopped taking birth control just in case she had a weak moment.

“I didn’t forget,” he said, propping himself up on his elbows and looking into her eyes.  “I should have trusted you a long time ago.  I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”  He kissed her gently as he slowed his moments, gliding in and out of her wet heat.  When he pulled back from her lips, he saw the tears welling in her eyes.

“I love you, Angel,” she sniffled, holding him more tightly.

“I love you too, Buffy,” he whispered, kissing the tears that spilled onto her cheeks.

Angel clenched his jaw as he moved inside her willing himself to last longer, but he knew that it had been too long and she felt so fucking good.  Being inside her for the first time with nothing between them made sex that was already fantastic, absolutely heavenly.  He reached between them and manipulated her clit until she was bucking in release and then he joined her with a cry of pleasure.

When they both had recovered he rolled over on his back, taking her with him.  She nestled on top of his chest and listened to his heartbeat as he wrapped his arms tightly around her and held her close to him.

“We should get dressed and go over to the house,” she mumbled, making no effort to move.

“Can’t we call and cancel?” he mumbled, kissing the top of her head.

“No,” she answered with a sigh.  “We’ve been making great progress and I want to keep up the momentum while I have help.”

“Fine, you little slave driver,” he groaned.  “I’ll work.”

***
 

Gunn and Lindsey were hefting a load of furniture into the back of Lindsey's truck, bound for the dump, when Buffy and Angel arrived together.  At Angel's obvious good mood - hell the man was whistling and Buffy half expected him to break out into song at any moment - both Gunn and Lindsey set a speculative gaze upon her.  Gunn merely laughed, but Lindsey rolled his eyes in disgust.

For the most part, Buffy tried to pretend that nothing was different.  She knew they weren't fooling anyone.  Angel had gone from silent and morose to chipper in one night.  Plus, they'd arrived together late.  It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened.

Buffy wasn't trying to hide the fact that they were on much improved terms, but she did feel that maybe they should be a little more subtle.  Around three, when Angel peeled off his t-shirt and everyone saw the fresh scratch marks on his back, she blushed bright red.

Buffy was in the kitchen, trying to figure out how to take the sink apart when Lindsey came in.  He leaned against the wall, watching her with quiet intent.

Knowing she couldn't ignore him much longer, Buffy brushed off her hands and turned to face him.  "Yes?"

"Are you happy?" he asked.

She nodded.  "Very."

He shrugged.  "That's all I needed to know," he said, turning to leave.

“Lindsey,” Buffy said, halting his retreat.  Slowly, he turned around again.  “It’s not ...” she started and fell silent.  “I love him,” she said.  “We’re not back together again, but I couldn’t stand to leave things the way they were.”

“You’re not back together,” Lindsey said skeptically.  “So what is up between you two?”

“Nothing,” Buffy said.  “We’re just friends.”

“Just friends,” he repeated quietly.  “Does Angel know that?”

Buffy bit down on her bottom lip.  “I don’t know,” she admitted.

“You know he doesn’t know, Buffy,” Lindsey said quietly.  “One look at his face and I can tell.”

“Look,” she said, faltering slightly and then taking a deep breath.  “He never made a commitment to me, okay? Never.  He never even admitted that he was fucking me.”

“I told you he doesn’t deserve you,” he said, cupping her cheek without thinking.  Realizing what he had done, he dropped his hand from her face and backed away.  He turned to make his way out of the room and saw Angel in the doorway.  Glaring at his former friend, he headed out of the room.

Lindsey had made it all the way back to Buffy’s bedroom, which he was painting almond white, when he heard Angel’s big feet clomping up the stairs after him.  He started painting right away, but concentrated on the footsteps coming up behind him.  He didn’t turn as he felt Angel’s glare in the back of his head.

“I don’t have to tell you to stay away from her, do I?” Angel ground out carefully.

“No,” Lindsey said with a chuckle before turning around, paintbrush poised in mid air, “Do I have to tell you that it’ll be a miracle if you don’t fuck this up?”

“I won’t,” Angel snapped. “Not that it’s any of your fucking business.”

“You’re right, it’s not,” Lindsey said.  “But make sure you walk the line, but if you slip up, I’m going to be there to catch her.”

***

Angel was still stinging from Lindsey's comment.  He had no doubt that Lindsey would love to hook up with Buffy, partly to spite him and partly because Linds really did like Buffy.  It was a win win situation for that son of a bitch.  He dragged a hand through his hair, knowing that it was a bad time to push the situation.  He and Buffy were on very tenuous ground and he didn't need to escalate matters.  But he couldn't leave it be.

She was outside surveying the back yard when he found her.  Her bright smile died as she noted the scowl on his face.  "Problem?" she asked.

Against his better judgment, the words spilled from his lips.  "What is going on between us?" he demanded.

Buffy frowned and took a deep breath.  "We decided to start over again," she said.

"That's what I thought too," he said.  "So why exactly was Lindsey pawing you in the kitchen?"

She crossed her arms over her chest, looking at him with unbridled irritation.  "Lindsey was not pawing me," she said.  "He's my friend.  And when I said 'start over', I mean it, Angel.  I want to start over.  From the very beginning.  You don't just get to apologize and then have me back at your apartment like some damn house pet."

He opened his mouth to proclaim the injustice, but thought better of it.  He snapped his mouth shut.  Releasing a taut breath, he dragged a hand through his hair.  He looked at her, trying to lock down his emotions.  "I won't share you," he said.

"Good," she replied tightly.  "Because I don't share me either.  What happened this afternoon, Angel … it was … We shouldn't have rushed things like that."

"What does that mean?" he demanded.  "Now you're breaking things off with me again?  What, you going to take Lindsey for a test drive now?"

Buffy's posture went absolutely rigid.  She glared at him for a few moments before brushing past him into the house.  "Follow me," she ordered.

He did as she said and followed her upstairs into the hallway, one of the few places they hadn't started replacing drywall yet.  She stopped in front of one particularly nasty dent in the wall.

"I know that your family is rich and your mother is a saint.  I know that you were wanted and loved your entire life.  But I really need you to understand that not everyone had that," she said firmly.

Angel swallowed thickly, but remained silent.

"This dent," she said, "is from the back of my head being shoved into the wall."  Tears glittered in her eyes, but she refused to stop talking.  "Ethan was drunk and pissed about who knows what.  He slammed me into the wall, beat the crap out of me.  He was wearing his college ring and he punched me in the mouth so hard, I got this."  She gently touched the scar that bisected her lips.  "Then, when I was coughing up blood and fighting to remain conscious, he raped me and just left me naked and bleeding on the floor like a piece of trash."

Angel stared at her, completely at a loss for what he could possibly say or do.

"I was fourteen years old, Angel," she said in a harsh whisper, tears running down her cheeks.  She cleared her throat, backing up several steps and looking at him.  "I know that you want what you want," she said.  "But right now, I have to take care of me.  I have to get my life and my emotions sorted out before I even begin to deal with you or Lindsey.  So please save the macho bullshit."

***

When Buffy came home late Friday afternoon, Angel was sitting on the stairs in front of her apartment, waiting.  He was holding a book and pretending to read it, feigning casualness.  She looked over him as she climbed the stairs.  She wanted so much to be strong during this new stage in her life.

“Hey,” he said, giving her a nervous smile.  She sat down next to him on the step and echoed his greeting.

“I’ve been thinking about this friends thing,” he said, setting his unread book aside.

“Yeah?” she said, looking out into the street.

“I don’t know the rules exactly,” he said awkwardly.  “Can I…can I touch you? Is it wrong to want to kiss you and hold you?”  Sighing, he ran his hand through his hair.

“Let’s just take it one day at a time, okay?” she said, leaning to shove his shoulder with hers.  “What do you and Doyle do when you’re just hanging out?”

“Drink beer,” he said, laughing.

“Okay,” she said, “After we finish working on the house tonight, let’s go get a beer.  We can talk about football and women.”

Chuckling, he brushed a lock of hair away from her face.  “Baby, you aren’t a good enough friend of mine to talk about football.”

She laughed out loud and bounded up the stairs.  “Are you going to give me a ride to the house?”

“You going to pay me gas money?” he grunted, in pure male fashion.

***

Four weeks later, the house was pretty much finished.  It didn’t even look like the same place, which made Buffy want to weep with joy.  The walls were freshly painted, a lot of the counters and baseboards and odds and ends were new.  There were still a few things that needed to be fixed.  The door to her bedroom still needed to be replaced, Angel promised to finish it on Saturday.  Also, she was seriously lacking in furniture.

Sometime over the last few weeks, Buffy had come to the realization that she was really going to be a homeowner.  All of this hard work, unlike at the Hyperion, was for her.  When she got done she was going to have a kick ass house.

A kick ass house that she couldn’t afford to maintain.  It had hurt the first time she realized that.  The house had been paid off years ago, but after getting current on the back taxes and all the renovations, she was broke again.  The house would still need a few repairs and then there were the monthly bills:  gas, electric, water, trash, cable.  Not to mention the little odds and ends that would need to be taken care of.  What if a water pipe burst?  And what about groceries?  Between the house and school, there was no way she could keep it up.  But she also couldn’t bear the thought of selling it.

So ...  roommates.  It was the only way to go.  There were three bedrooms and the basement.  Buffy figured if she could get a roommate or two, that their rent, plus splitting the bills would mean she might not have to get a job while she struggled with her college coursework.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Gunn said with a smile.  They were all having beers at a seedy little campus bar that served under aged girls provided they were pretty enough.

Buffy took a drink of her beer and frowned.  “Just thinking that I need roommates,” she said.

Across the table, Willow smiled brightly.  “That’s great!  Well, I mean, not great that you need roommates, but I’m ...” She looked at Oz, floundering.

“The thing is,” Oz said quietly, “I guess if you don’t renew your lease they kind of want you to move out.”

Doyle groaned, sliding down in large booth.  It had become tradition after a hard day of working on the house that they all went out and got beers together.  “When I moved out, we told the landlord we weren’t going to need the place again.  But when I moved back, we forgot to untell him.”

“We’re homeless at the end of the month,” Oz added.

“That’s perfect,” Buffy beamed.  “I mean, I was worried about having to live with complete strangers and then the next thing you know I’d be Single White Femaled, but this is way better.”

“You sure it’s okay?” Willow said, biting her lip.  “All three of us?  We don’t want to invite ourselves in if you had someone else in mind.”

“No, I really would love it if you guys would move in,” Buffy said, grinning, “and pay rent and utilities and phone and hopefully cable.”  She grinned wider and took a sip of her beer, almost glowing from the idea now that she knew she might have a chance at making ends meet.

“Well, if I’d known it was cable that made you swoon, darlin’, I would have tried that a long time ago,” Lindsey said, winking.

“You have your own place,” Buffy said, laughing.  “Besides, when I say ‘cable,’ I don’t mean the Playboy Channel.”

“If you don’t mean Playboy, want do you mean?” he asked, blinking in an almost completely serious blank look.  It took thirty impressive seconds before he cracked a grin and everyone else chuckled as well, taking a sip of their beers.  From the end of the table, Angel schooled himself in the rules of friendship and said nothing.

He continued to say nothing all the way home when he gave Buffy a drive that night back to her apartment.  He felt like he was walking on eggshells most of the time, carefully making sure he wasn’t too possessive or jealous or attentive or inattentive.  Buffy thought they were friends but he knew that they weren’t.  He was just biding his time until he got her back and he was willing to do whatever it took.

“You’re invited, you know,” she said quietly after a few moments of silence.

“Invited where?” he answered, breaking from this thoughts.

“To move in,” she answered.  “I know your lease is up too.  You can move into the house if you want.”

“With you? In your room?” he asked, risking a glance over to her.  He held his breath as she stared out the window, contemplating his words.

“I’m not ready,” she said quietly.  “Not for what you want.”

“So,” he said, clearing his throat.  “You want to move all your stuff tomorrow?  I can put your door on after we get all your stuff hauled over and-“

“I do love you, Angel.  That’s not what this is about,” she said, interrupting him.

“I’ll pick up the door tomorrow afternoon,” Angel continued.  “I already have one in mind.”

“Angel…”

“Don’t, baby,” he said, pulling up to the curb and leaning over to kiss her cheek as he always did these days.  It was the closest he got to her skin, the closest he got to holding her, then he went home and jacked off in the shower.  It was pathetic, he thought disgustedly, but he would take what he could get.

“Just don’t let anyone else move in your bedroom either, alright?”

***

The situation wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t great either, but it could definitely be worse.  Angel took a deep breath, nailing in the last bit of framing so he could hang the new door to Buffy’s bedroom.  He wanted to keep a positive attitude about this whole situation, but mostly he was just frustrated.  Living with Buffy – no, scratch that - being roommates with Buffy would be an exercise in torture.  Being near her every day, seeing her freshly showered in the morning, sleep rumpled at night, sacked out in front of the TV ... and never being able to touch her.

He was a masochist.  He’d come to this realization.  Because despite knowing that it was going to be hell, he still signed up for it.  Next week he’d be moving in to the small bedroom between Buffy’s room and the master bedroom that Oz and Willow would be sharing.  Doyle would get the basement.  It was ridiculous.  Buffy was right, his lease had been up.  But he had more than enough money to live on his own.  The only reason he was going to be roommates with Buffy was so that he could be close to her.  Close enough to make sure Lindsey kept his distance.

Growling under his breath, Angel lifted the door into position.  It was awkward.  He knew he should have asked for help, but he didn’t want anyone seeing what he was doing until it was finished.

He and Buffy were on good terms.  They hung out a lot. They palled around.  They were ... friends.  He liked being friends with Buffy.  He had always genuinely enjoyed her company.  She had a unique wit and charming humor.  Her driving fire was enchanting.  But as much as he enjoyed being her friend, he wanted more – needed more.  And not just sex.  Of course he missed sex.  He missed sex a lot.  He’d been missing it ever since Buffy moved out.  He’d come close a few times, wanting so badly to drown his pain in someone, anyone, that he went prowling for company.  But even when the warm bodies were ones that he had many times before found release with, he couldn’t do it.  Darla was so similar to Buffy and so completely different all at the same time that it did nothing but confuse him even more.  Gwen was just ... well, she wasn’t Buffy.  After that, he quit trying, deciding it would be better to spare both himself and his would-be partner the misery.

“That’s...just.... that’s ... wow,” Buffy said, startling Angel out of his thoughts.

He smiled, testing the door, making sure it swung freely on the hinges.

“Angel,” she said softly, “I know that these kinds of doors are fairly common on houses, but aren’t they usually at the front door?”

Angel stared at the steel case door.  It had a dead bolt and a peephole.  He had been thinking about this for a long time and knew that everyone would balk at his innocent plan to keep Buffy safe from intruders, both wild and domestic.  He turned and grinned sheepishly at her.

“Generally,” he agreed, nodding.  Reaching in his pocket, he produced a shiny key and put it in her hand.  “Now you can lock the door and no one will be able to sneak up on you.  No splintered doorframe.  This one is stronger than the last one.”

Eyeing him warily, she looked down at the key in her hand and then back to the door.  “Don’t these usually come with a spare key?”

“Sure, I have the spare in case you get locked out,” he mumbled, pretending to test by swinging it as he peered at the hinges.

“Angel…” Buffy warned quietly.  “I want the key.”

”Oh and look,” Angel said, striding into her room and skirting the boxes so he could reach the window.  He gestured outside once she came closer.  “I trimmed the tree so no one could climb into your window.”

“Oh god,” Buffy groaned, looking over at her butchered tree.  It looked like it had a run in with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  She was probably going to have a gardener come out and treat the branches he hacked off so the whole damn thing didn’t die.  “Angel, have you lost your mind?” she demanded.

“No baby, I’m just thinking of you,” Angel said looking down at the prickly bushes he planted on the ground level so it would be more difficult to scale to the porch roof.  From the tone in her voice, it wouldn’t be a good idea to mention those.  He had been up since 6 AM that morning planting them.  Maybe she wouldn’t even notice.  They weren’t exactly pretty but they did lend a sort of wild beauty if you didn’t look too closely.  “I want you to feel safe in your own house,” he said, kissing her forehead.  “It’s important.”

“Alright,” she sighed, “but I want that key.”

“Someone has to have a spare,” he said, moving quickly toward the newly installed steel case door.  “Damn, look at the time.  I’d better meet up with Gunn to move my stuff if I’m going to get that done today.”

“Angel, I want the key,” she growled, stomping after him.  “Willow can have the spare.”

“Sorry baby,” he called out as he tramped down the stairs.  “We can talk about it later!”

Angel hurried out of the house and into his car.  He started it just as Buffy made it to the door, scowling after him.  He waved cheerfully and pulled out.  If he hurried, he could make it to the hardware store and have a copy made before he met up with Gunn at his place.  He’d be damned if he went to all that trouble only to lock himself out of her room.

***

It was later that night when Buffy was curled up in bed that she glanced at her new door.  Unbidden, tears shimmered in her eyes.  She blinked them away quickly, sniffling loudly.  Damn him.  Angel still knew exactly how to break through all of her carefully erected barriers to find that one vulnerable spot she didn’t even know she still had.

The fact that he still wanted to protect her, that he went to all the trouble of making sure she felt safe in her own home – even now that Ethan was dead, made her heart ache.  She was still mad at him, still unbelievably wounded by his actions.  But she couldn't deny that she still loved him, that she wanted nothing more than to believe he truly had changed.

She sniffled again, steeling her resolve as she stared up at her darkened bedroom ceiling.  They were friends now.  They were good at that.  Maybe, sometime in the future they could be more, but right now had to keep him at arm's length.

She had to.

***

"You busy tonight?"

Buffy swiveled around to look at Angel.  Damn, but he looked good.  She was standing at the kitchen sink eating a bowl of cereal as she looked out at her back yard, still trying to convince herself that all of this really was hers.  "Weh?" she asked, chewing around a mouthful of frosted mini-wheats.

Angel smiled.  "I'm assuming that was a 'where'," he said cheekily.  He shrugged at her glare.  "Out," he said.  "As friends.  I have this thing I need to go to tonight and I really not in the mood to deal with any sort of romantic hassles."

Perversely, Buffy was both relieved and angry that he apparently was truly beginning to view her as 'just a friend'.  Hiding her scowl, she swallowed her bite and turned toward the sink to rise out her bowl.  Every time she went out somewhere with Angel it got harder and harder to stop herself from moving their relationship to the next level – or back to the previous level.  Whatever.

Sighing, she turned around, “What time?”

“Look, you don’t have to go if you don’t want,” he said, lending against the doorjamb.  “I just thought you might like to get out of the house for the evening.”

“You’re right,” she said, with a nod of her blonde head.  “I do need to get out of the house.  What time do you want to go?”

“How about 6:30?” he suggested.

“What should I wear?”

“Whatever you want,” he said, grinning as he raked his eyes over her t-shirt and boxers.  “It should be pretty casual.”

He was getting so hard up over his ex-lover that even with her hair on top of her head in baggy clothes that showed absolutely nothing, she looked sexy.  Idly, he wondered what she would do if he crossed the room and took her into his arms.  Clearing his throat, he pulled himself out of his reverie, nodded at whatever Buffy had just said and walked out of the kitchen.

***

At six-thirty, Buffy walked out of her room and down the steps to find Angel strolling around the living room jingling his keys.  She had chosen to wear jeans and a silk camisole since it had been warm at night lately.  Now that she saw Angel looking delicious in black slacks and a maroon silk shirt, she suddenly felt underdressed.

“Should I change?” she asked, frowning.

“No,” he said, shaking his head.  “You look beautiful.  Ready?”

She followed him out of the house and climbed into his car, still feeling a bit unsure of her attire.

“Maybe if you stop being cryptic about where we’re going, I’ll feel better about my outfit,” she said after a few minutes of driving in silence.  She used to have no problem at all with the fact that Angel didn’t often listen to the radio unless she turned it on and was fine with not talking as well.  Tonight the silence seemed overwhelming.

“I’m not being cryptic,” he chuckled.  “You never asked.”

“Angel,” she groaned, rolling her eyes, “where are we going?”

“Dinner with my parents,” he said calmly, flipping on his blinker as he neared the next corner.  “We have a monthly thing if my father’s in town to catch up and I occasionally bring a date-“

“YOUR PARENTS?” she shouted, nearly sobbing with the news.  “Angel, you didn’t tell me we were meeting your parents!”

“Actually, you’ve already met my mother,” he answered, pulling into a long circular drive in front of a mansion.  Buffy’s mouth went dry as she stared at the monstrous structure.  “And you know Cordy,” Angel continued.  “You’ll just be meeting my father.”

“I’m wearing jeans,” she said, punching him on the shoulder.  “How could you not fucking tell me we were having dinner with your parents and let me walk out of the house wearing jeans?”

“You look beautiful,” Angel said, frowning.  “What’s the big deal?”

“Look at that house,” Buffy growled.  “Cordelia’s going to look like she just walked off the pages of a fashion magazine and I’m wearing jeans.”

“My Dad’ll be wearing jeans too,” Angel offered weakly, hoping his father hadn’t had to work late that night.  “It’s just a family meal.”

“Yeah,” she said, climbing out the car.  “Whatever.”

***

Angel finally had to grab Buffy by the hand and pull her bodily through the house.  She cowered behind him, so overwhelmed that she had finally stopped bitching and now looked more like a deer in the headlights.  As he rounded a corner and entered the formal dining room, he heard a weak, “Oh gods.”

Personally, Angel didn’t see anything special about the room.  But as he tried to view it from Buffy’s perspective, he felt a little bad.  He could see how it was overwhelming to someone who wasn’t used to it.  The room was decorated elaborately from the crystal chandelier to the priceless antique china dishes.  He hadn’t lied to her. This wasn’t a special occasion.  It was just a simple dinner with the family.  But a simple dinner with the family probably was slightly different than what she was familiar with.

His mother glanced up as they drew closer.  She smiled brightly at her son, but shock registered on her face as she glanced at Buffy.  She hid it quickly though and said, “It’s very nice to see you, Buffy.  Angel tells me you’re roommates.”

“Yeah,” Buffy managed to squeak.  “There’s five of us all together sharing the house.”

“Living with four people when you could afford your own place,” Cordelia sneered, entering the room.  Her new Prada heels clicked loudly on the highly polished parquet floor.  “I thought Mom was the martyr in this family.”

Angel glared at his sister while his mother calmly looked at her daughter.  “Cordelia, how your brother chooses to live his life is none of your concern,” she said firmly.

“But Mom – “ Cordelia started, gaping at the injustice.

“None of your concern,” she repeated flatly.

With a huff, Cordelia pulled out a chair and sat down in it.  Angel urged Buffy to do the same.  When they were both seated, Buffy reached over and dug her fingers into Angel’s thigh as hard as she could.  He grunted softly, but managed to maintain his smile as he firmly peeled her claws out of his flesh and made small talk with his mother.

“Kathleen, what the hell is that smell?” a voice bellowed loud enough to make Buffy jump in start.  She swiveled in her chair to see a very large man filling the doorway.  He stepped through easily, scowling at his wife.  “It smells like rotting fish, lass.”

“Honey, it’s the new dish the cook is working on,” Kathleen reminded him gently.  “Be quiet or you’ll hurt her feelings.”

“What about my feelings?” he groused.  “She’s stunk up the entire house!”

Angel and Cordelia grinned at each other and then at Buffy who was quietly giggling.  She was somewhere between fear and awe of the huge man who was whining like a child over having to eat fish.

“Jake honestly,” Angel’s mother said, shaking her head, “you’ll like the meal and if you don’t, you’ll pretend.”

“Hi sweetheart,” Jake grunted, kissing the top of Cordelia’s head in passing, before continuing with his argument.  “Baby, I won’t pretend if it tastes like shit,” Jake said.  “We pay her to make edible food!”

“Shhh,” Kathleen reminded him.  His booming voice carried all over the neighborhood.  She was certain the cook was already crying her little eyes out.  The girl was half the time convinced someone or other in the household hated her and was preparing to quit.  Jake’s shouting about rotting fish would be enough to send her into hysterics.

Jake settled at the end of the table and only then did he notice the little blonde visitor.  “Angel, who’s your little friend?”

“Buffy Summers,” Angel said, squeezing her hand under the table.  “Buffy, this is my father, Jake.”

“Hi Mr. Chase,” she said timidly.  She already liked him.  He didn’t seem to match his dainty, lush surroundings.  In fact, he looked like a carpenter and, true to Angel’s promise, he was wearing jeans.

“Well don’t whisper at me and it’s Jake.  Mr. Chase is a bricklayer in Dublin,” Jake grunted, crossing his arms over his broad chest.  “So, you’re the lass who has my son by the balls, eh?”

“Jake!” Kathleen blustered at her husband and then looked at her son in shock.  Angel crossed his arms over his chest as well and leaned back in his chair.  He had absolutely nothing to say.

“Your son is an asshole,” Buffy countered without thinking. Snapping her mouth shut, she spared a glance over at Cordy, who was studying her nails.  She appeared to care less about the whole affair.

Angel’s father hooted in laughter in response.  “That he is, little one,” he chuckled.  “Now where’s the roadkill that new cook is making? The sooner I choke it down, the sooner we can order a pizza.”

***

Buffy was actually chuckling quietly to herself as Angel drove them back to the house.   While the first few minutes had been absolutely mortifying, after Jake showed up, dinner was actually a lot of fun.  Despite all of Jake’s squalling, dinner had been very, very good.  Cordelia was her usual catty self, but Angel’s parents hadn’t seemed to mind her being there at all. It made Buffy feel welcome and warm in a very unusual way.

“I hope you didn’t have too horrible of a time,” Angel said quietly, his eyes focused on the road.

“It was good,” Buffy said with a smile.  “I like your dad.”

Angel chuckled.  “You’re the first girl I’ve ever brought home that said that.  Most of the time he terrifies them.”

Buffy ignored the irritation his words caused.  She didn’t want to think about Angel taking other girls home to ‘meet the parents’.  “He’s a marshmallow,” Buffy said.  It was obvious that Jake Chase adored his family.  It was also obvious that he had a lot of darkness in his past.  Buffy could identify with that.  It made her feel like less of a freak.

When they arrived back at the house, Buffy yawned and mumbled something about an early aerobics class that Willow had convinced her to take.  “Nite,” Angel said softly, watching her walk up the stairs.

Her door latched with a soft click and he sighed, frowning.  He wandered into the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of beer.  Doyle found him fifteen minutes later sitting on the front steps staring out at nothing.

“Ya look like someone ran over your puppy,” Doyle said, sinking onto the step next to Angel.

Angel grunted, not looking at him.

“Buffy still not lettin’ ya back in, eh?”

“We’re friends,” Angel said acridly.

“Friends is somethin at least,” Doyle noted.  “And you’re more than friends.  You’re roommates.”

“It’s not working,” Angel said.  “She’s never going to forgive me.”

Doyle sighed.  “So I guess you best get on with your life then,” he said.  Angel’s head snapped to him and he glared.  Doyle smiled.  “Look, man.  If Buffy says she just wants to be friends, then maybe you should be friends.”

“That’s the worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard,” Angel bit out.

“You’re missin’ the point,” Doyle continued.  “Buffy has no problem being your friend because she knows that you’re still pinin’ over her like some lovesick pup.  Maybe you should give her a little competition.”

“Like date someone else?”

“Now yer catchin’ on, genius,” Doyle said.  “And since you’re such great friends, why don’t you suggest something friendly.  Like a double date.”

***

Angel was pleased with himself as he slipped into his leather pants the following Friday night.  Doyle just didn’t get nearly enough credit for being a genius.  When he first brought up the double date with Buffy, he was purposefully cryptic so at first she thought he was asking her out.  She was already hemming and hawing over the friends thing, when he clarified that he wanted her to double date with him and Faith.  The look on her face was absolutely priceless.

Faith, on the other hand, was thrilled about the date.  She was less than pleased about the double part, but she couldn’t wait to make Buffy jealous.  As vague as Angel was to Buffy, he was honest with Faith.  He had no intention of sleeping with anyone in the near future but he did want to let Buffy know what she was missing.

It wasn’t until he came down the steps and saw Lindsey standing there that he reconsidered Doyle’s genius.  The man was a fucking moron.  Angel eyed Lindsey severely and then invited them out to his car to pick up Faith.  As he got out of the car to walk to her door, he closed his eyes for a second in a silent promise.  He would not kill Lindsey.  Not even if he kissed Buffy goodnight.

Faith opened the door, smiling her bright red, come fuck me smile and Angel felt a twinge in his groin.  As much as he loved Buffy, he had always lusted after Faith.  She could do things with her body that made him weep with pleasure.  He chuckled as he looked at her outfit.  She had worn black leather pants too.

“Nice pants,” he said, cracking a grin.

“What’s in the pants is nicer, in case you’re done having blue balls over blondie,” Faith grunted, kissing him quickly on the lips before tucking her arm in his.

“Be nice to Buffy,” Angel warned.

“I didn’t promise anything,” she said, tossing her hair over her shoulder.  “She cut you loose and if she has a problem-“

“Faith,” he growled as they reached the car.

“Chill,” she laughed.  “I’m on board here.  I’m just shooting my mouth off. I won’t hurt little twinkle toes’ feelings.”

Faith slid into the front bench seat of Angel’s car and glanced in the back.  One expertly plucked brow arched.  She had expected Buffy to have some loser with her, but this guy looked very, very interesting.  Apparently Buffy was moving up in the world.  “Faith,” she said, boldly extending her hand towards him.

“Lindsey,” he replied with a slight twang.  “My pleasure.”

“If you play your cards right,” she countered with a purely carnal smile.  He almost blushed.  It was adorable.

Angel slid behind the wheel and his glare was enough to make Faith turn around in the seat and buckle her seatbelt.  Initially she only agreed to the date because she was bored and torturing Buffy sounded like fun.  The bitch had, after all, taken away her favorite toy.  But now things were looking up.

***

The restaurant was a college hang out, a bar and grill.  It was noisy but they had great burgers and a decent selection of beer.  Faith didn’t wait to be seated, steering all of them to a large booth and yelling drink orders at the bartender.  Buffy glared a hole in her back.  If it weren’t for the leather pants and the obscenely tight red tanktop, she wouldn’t get away with half the crap she did.

“Bud,” Faith said, scooting down in the booth, making herself comfortable as she simultaneously cuddled up to Angel and smiled wolfishly at Lindsey.  “Took you for more of the pretentious aged whiskey type.”

“I only have pretentious aged whiskey when I’m with pretentious old men, darlin’,” Lindsey said, raking his eyes over her plunging neckline before looking back into his arms.  “I am definitely not in that sort of company.”

“No, you aren’t,” Faith purred, tipping the bottle to her lips and taking a drink.  She set it down again and smiled at him.

Buffy scowled.  How Faith could make drinking a beer carnal was beyond her.  Lindsey was practically drooling on her.  Thankfully Angel looked a little annoyed.  At least she wasn’t the only one not enjoying their dates giving each other googley eyes across the table.  Buffy huffed in irritation.  Not only was Faith trying to monopolize Lindsey, but she was so close to Angel, she might as well be sitting on his lap.

“How are things going with starting your own practice, Lindsey?” Buffy said, interrupting Faith.  “Are you having a hard time getting the clients you need?”

“Actually, it’s been going okay,” Lindsey said, suddenly remembering he was there with Buffy.  “I almost have too much to do.  I’ve been nabbing quiet a few of Wolfram & Hart’s smaller, more neglected clients and they’re enjoying being treated more importantly.  Some of them even have me on retainer already.  That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something, Buffy.”

“Oh?” she asked, taking a dainty sip of her beer.

“My secretary can’t keep up with some of the filing and other tasks and I was wondering if you were interested in being my part time secretary.  Just to fill in for a couple hours a week,” he said.  “No schedule.  Just whenever you’re free and I’ll pay a competitive wage.”

“How many hours?” Buffy asked, thinking about her course load for the semester.  A small amount of hours a week would definitely help out.  She wanted to set up a savings account in case there was an emergency and it was looking like all the money her roommates paid did just enough to pay for the house costs and her tuition.

“Not too many,” Lindsey said.  “I’d be flexible, but I was thinking-“

“About shutting the fuck up?” Angel snarled from across the table.  “If you think for one minute you’re going to get Buffy into your office at night where you can try to get in her pants, you better have another thought. No fucking way.”

“Angel,” Buffy said, whipping her head to look over at him.  “What the hell is your problem?  Lindsey needs a secretary, not a hooker.  Besides, you can’t tell me what to do.  I can work for him if I want.”

“The hell you can,” Angel argued.  “You are not going to spend your evenings working for him.  I don’t trust him.”

“How dare you,” Buffy hissed.  “I allow you to live in my house, but I didn’t sign on for a parent, thank you very much.”

“Can I have a word with you?” Angel asked tersely.

With a grunt, Buffy pushed herself out of the booth and followed Angel out into the parking lot.  “What the hell is that all about?” Buffy demanded.  “We’re friends, Angel.  Nothing more.”

“Yeah, I know,” Angel said bitterly.  “Why do you think I brought Faith?  I have enough friends.  She’s made it perfectly clear she’d like to resume our former relationship.”

Buffy bristled.  “Yeah, I’m sure you shared something really special with that vapid whore.”

“Like what you and Lindsey have going on is strictly cerebral,” Angel countered.

“He’s a friend.”

“Like I’m a friend?” Angel demanded.  “Does that mean that Lindsey used to nail you on a regular basis too?”

The slap shocked both of them and they simply stared at each other.  Absently, Buffy rubbed her stinging hand.  A couple brushed past them on the way into the bar, obviously noticing something was wrong.  Eventually, Angel looked away, dragging a hand through his hair.  “We should go back in,” he said tightly.

Nodding, Buffy turned and preceded him inside.  She was so lost in her pain, in the recognition of Angel’s presence behind her that it took a minute for the scene to register.

Abruptly, Faith and Lindsey broke apart.  Lindsey had the decency to look ashamed while Faith merely smile, wiping the spittle from her lips with the back of her hand.  “Have a nice chat?” she asked cheekily.

***

Buffy crossed her arms over her chest, staring blindly out the windshield, trying to ignore the sounds of Lindsey and Faith making out in the back seat.  The whole thing was heartbreakingly frustrating.  She loved Angel so much but how was she supposed to trust him again?  How was she supposed to know when she was ready to be with him again, when she was done finding her footing in her new life?

After they dropped Faith and Lindsey off at Faith’s apartment, Angel gripped the steering wheel tightly but didn’t speak.  He was furious with her and he was furious with himself.  Was he just going to spend the rest of his life pretending, like he did tonight with Faith, only to be made into a fool at the end of the night?  Maybe he should just move on for real.  Get his own place again and find a warm body to put into his bed.  She wouldn’t be Buffy, but then again he couldn’t have Buffy could he?

He snarled and pulled over on a side street a few miles from Faith’s apartment and turned toward her.  “What do I have to do, Buffy?” he demanded.  “What will it take?  I’ve been celibate for months.  I spend all my time doting on you, being your fucking friend and making sure I toe the line!  Or maybe you don’t love me like I thought you did, is that it?  Am I just this big slobbering dog following you around?”

“I told you I need time,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.  She leaned against the door, away from him and tried not to cry.  He made it sound like she was just trying to torture him on purpose.  She loved him.  She would never hurt Angel.

“Yeah, but how much time, Buffy?  What are we talking?  Another month?  A year?  What?” he raged.  Realizing himself, he jerked open the door and got out.  Taking deep breaths he paced along the sidewalk like a caged tiger.

Slowly, she opened her door and stepped outside.  Closing it, she leaned back against it, unable to go to him.  She didn't know why she couldn't but her fingers held a death grip on the door handle and her feet were rooted to the concrete.  Angel was the first - no the only - man she had ever and possibly would ever love.  Just when she thought she was permanently lost, he gave her the means to drag herself back from the edge, but at the same time he wounded her more deeply than anyone else ever had.  She believed he loved her.  She believed he wanted to make it up to her.  But down deep inside, she wasn't certain that he wouldn't hurt her again.  She had come so far, turned her life around so much … and if he gathered her close only to destroy her again, that truly would be the end.  She would never recover.  Not a second time.

She knew she was stringing Angel along and she hated herself for that, but she couldn't seem to do any differently.  She was too scared, too gun shy to risk everything by trying again.

"You just going to stand there all night?" he demanded.

She looked up, tears glittering in her eyes.  "Angel, I … " she trailed off into nothing.

He shrugged, trying to look indifferent, but the tears standing in his own eyes told a different story.  "I won't spend the rest of my life trying to win you over," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.  "This is it.  Tonight.  If you ever want there to be anything between us again, you need to tell me now because if you don't say anything, I'm gone, Buffy.  Permanently.  I'm done being your doormat.  I know I fucked up and I'm sorry.  I'd do anything to make it up to you if you would only give me the chance.  But I do have my limits."

She opened her mouth, staring at him.  Tears streamed down her cheeks, but the words wouldn't come.

Moments stretched into minutes as he waited, staring at her with such longing that it broke her heart.

But still, the words wouldn't come.

He sighed, shuddering.  A mirthless laugh broke across his lips, dissolving into sobs.  "Fuck.  This is really it," he said bleakly.  "I don't think I ever really thought this would happen."  He looked at her, so lost and lonely.  With something between a groan and a growl, he pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes for a moment before dropping his arms back to his sides.  Turning, he quickly approached her, grabbing her wrist and slamming his keys into her hand.  Task accomplished, he darted away from her again as if touching her caused him physical pain.  "Take my car and go home," he said.

"Angel - "

"Now, Buffy!" he yelled, his tears gone.  "Go home.  I'll have someone get the car tomorrow along with the rest of my stuff."

"You're not … You're …  You're leaving?" she asked in a near whisper.

“I told you,” he said quietly, his face streaked with tears.  “It’s over.  Goodbye, Buffy.”

Buffy pressed her free hand against her mouth as he walked off without looking back.  She watched him, unable to move as he left her.  She could see his shoulders shaking as he stumbled away.  Slowly, she slid down the side of his car and sobbed for a long time, gripping his keys in her hand as if they would bring him back, as if they were a part of him.

Finally, when she was able, she stood on shaking legs and slid into the driver’s seat of his car.  She fumbled for long minutes trying to find a way to move the seat forward so she could reach the pedals, still sniffling.  The tears in her now swollen eyes made it hard to see but she did make it home in twice the time it would have taken a licensed driver.

She pulled into the driveway and stumbled into the house.  She dropped her purse and the keys on the floor in the entryway and crawled up the stairs, feeling the tears come to her eyes all over again.  It seemed to take forever to get to her room.  The first thing she saw was the door Angel had installed for her, the stupid fucking door with its deadbolt and peephole.  The tears erupted all over again at the sight of the monstrosity.  Slowly, she made it to her bed, curled up fully clothed and sobbed herself to sleep.

***

It was after ten in morning when Willow knocked on her door, startling Buffy awake.  She sat up, bleary eyed and looked at her best friend who fidgeted as she tried to find the words.

“Buffy,” Willow started nervously, “I don’t know what’s going on but there are some men downstairs and they say they’re here to take Angel’s stuff.  Oz is down there with them, but they say they’re supposed to pack everything up and take it right now.  And uh…they want his car keys.”

“Okay,” Buffy said, taking a deep breath. “Okay, this isn’t happening.”  With shaking hands she picked up her phone and dialed his cell phone number, biting her lower lip nervously.  Seconds later she hung it up again and stared at Willow, feeling new tears prick her eyes.  The number had been disconnected.

“Let them take it,” Buffy said, laying back down on the bed.  “Just let them in, Will.”

“I don’t understand,” Willow said, moving inside and sitting next to her on the bed.  “He just moved in.”

“He’s leaving me,” Buffy said, falling into new sobs.  “He said he’s not coming back, Will.  He…he meant it.”

***

"Hey, Darlin, what's goin' - "  Lindsey stopped short, staring at Buffy.  "Oh, gods, Buffy," he said, hurrying to her side, placing a comforting hand on her arm.  "Oh shit.  About last night.  Oh gods.  I mean, I know it was tacky and all, but I never really thought you were taking it seriously.  I know you still love Angel.  I just - "

She pressed trembling fingers over his lips, silencing him.  They were standing in her kitchen, late afternoon sun shining through the windows.  "You and Faith were fine," Buffy said, her voice low and scratchy from endless hours spent sobbing.

Lindsey looked at her beseechingly.  "Sweetheart, what happened?"

She wrapped her arms around her middle.  "Angel's gone," she said flatly, shocked when she didn't start crying again.  "Last night he gave me an ultimatum and I …  I sat there and did nothing while the only man I'll ever love walked out of my life."

"Buffy, he loves you," Lindsey said firmly.  "He may have been all riled up last night, but that boy is so pussywhi-"

"He's gone," she said.  "Permanently.  He had a moving company come over today and pick up all of his stuff.  He'd disconnected his cell and whenever I call his parents' house, the maid answers and pretends not to speak English."

Lindsey pursed his lips together.  Despite what he felt in his gut, that Angel would never willingly leave Buffy, he had to admit that it sounded like the impossible had indeed come to pass.  Sighing, he leaned back against the counter, unable to give her any words of comfort.

"Well, at least you and Faith had a good evening," Buffy said, trying not to sound bitter.

Lindsey smiled weakly.  "Sorry about that," he said.  "Awful timing."

She shrugged, trying to push away her foul mood.  "I don’t want you to be miserable just because I am, Linds.  I'm happy you and Faith hit it off."

“If there’s anything I can do…“

“There’s nothing anyone can do,” Buffy said wearily.  “I missed my chance, Linds and now he’s gone.”

***

Angel didn’t even flinch when his father opened his door and let it slam against the wall.  He stayed in his chair, staring at nothing.  The only sound was his father’s footsteps on the floor.  Jake Chase sat down on the edge of the bed and stared at his son wordlessly.  Angel was used to this game.  He didn’t look at his father and he said nothing.

“All your shit is piled up in the garage,” Jake said finally with a sigh. “If you don’t do something with it, your mother’s going to be pissed.”

“I’ll move it,” Angel grunted, but didn’t budge an inch.  His voice was low and scratchy.

“You’re hurtin’ like a bitch, boy.  I understand that, but are you sure you’re not making a mistake?”

“I lost her before last night,” Angel said, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.  “She just fucking stared at me like I’d sprouted another head.  She doesn’t love me.  I saved her from her fucked up life and now she’s moving on to bigger and better things.  She outgrew me and I’ve outgrown being stupid.”

“Well,” Jake said, rising to his feet.  “I guess you’ve got it all figured out.”  He wandered over to the window and looked out for a moment before speaking.  “When I met your mama, her father forbid her from seeing me,” Jake said, surveying the beautiful estate, “and she broke up with me under his orders.  She cut me off.  She wouldn’t take my calls.  She returned my letters.  I went from heaven to hell in a fucking day.  I wasn’t good enough for her because I didn’t have a pot to piss in, but I loved her.  I would have sold my soul to have her back in my life.”

Jake turned around and faced his son, leaning on the windowsill.  “It took me three months, two weeks, four days and 10 hours to get her back,” he said, recounting the time with startling accuracy.  “But I’ll tell you the God’s honest truth, son, I’d a’ waited three decades for her.  How much time is that little blonde worth to you?”

“Leave me the fuck alone, Dad,” Angel grunted, rising to his feet.  “I’m not you and Buffy’s not Mom.”

“Get your shit out of the garage before your mother gets home,” Jake said, not moving from his spot as his son left the room.
date.”

***

Finals came and went in a blur.  Even the realization that she hadn’t flunked out of school wasn’t enough to put more than the weakest smile on Buffy’s face.  She tried to be reasonable about things with Angel.  She tried to convince herself that she just needed time, that the stabbing ache of pain in her heart would eventually fade.  But it never did fade.  She never got used to seeing the empty room he occupied for such a short time.

Sleep became a thing of the past and she picked up a paying job at the Hyperion manning the desk after hours.  Lindsey’s job would have paid better, but she couldn’t take it.  Not after everything that had happened.  She enrolled in summer school just to have an excuse to hang around campus.  The art history class would fulfill a requirement she needed for graduation, but Buffy couldn’t even try to lie to herself.  She took the class because it was being taught by Professor Kerr, Angel’s boss.  She thought perhaps Angel would be the TA for the class.  It would have been fairly neutral ground, a chance for them to see each other without either of them having to make the first move.  But Angel wasn’t the TA.

The class started six weeks after her horrible, final fight with Angel.  The class itself was only six weeks long and they were quickly approaching the final before Buffy could muster the nerve to linger after class one day.

“Ms. Summers,” Professor Kerr said, looking up from his papers.  The class was small and he knew all of the students by name.  This student in particular, he had noticed.  You couldn’t miss her.  She looked so miserable he was afraid she was going to sink into the floor.  He knew he wasn’t the most engaging professor on campus, but it did bother him that she seemed so dissatisfied with the class.

“Uh, hi,” she mumbled, flushing.  Her expression was pained and she was obviously nervous.  “I just ... well, this isn’t really related to class, but I ... I was wondering ...”

He looked at her expectantly, his curiosity now piqued.

She took a deep breath.  “I was wondering about one of your teaching assistants,” she said.  “Angel Chase.  I was just wondering if you could possibly tell me his office hours.”

Everything clicked into place for Professor Kerr and he gave her a small, sad smile.  She wasn’t bored by his class.  She was nursing a broken heart.  So many things made sense now.  He sighed.  “I’m afraid Angel isn’t my assistant for summer session,” he said.

“Oh,” she said sadly, her cheeks staining with an embarrassed blush.  “I see.”

Removing his glasses, Professor Kerr looked at her.  If anything, she looked even smaller now, more deflated.  “Angel is studying abroad this summer,” he told her.  “And I honestly don’t know if he intends to return in the fall.”

She looked at him and for a moment, he thought she was going to cry.  But she simply took another deep breath and nodded.  “Thank you, Professor,” she said.

***

“You look lonely.”

“I’m not interested,” Angel grunted from his barstool.  He didn’t even bother to look at the woman sitting beside him.  It didn’t matter if she was supermodel or hobo, he didn’t want to know.  It didn’t matter.

“Maybe if you take that handsome face of yours out of your beer-“

“No,” Angel said, cutting her off immediately.  “But thanks.”

With a dainty huff, the woman was gone from the stool beside him and he grimaced into his drink.  It had been months.  Long ones.  He refused to count the time just to spite his father with his Happily Ever After, I Fought So Hard For Your Mother speech.

He didn’t think it would be easy, leaving Buffy and moving on with his life, but he had no idea it would be this hard.  He took for granted seeing her every day even if just to talk to her or see her smile, or hell, to see her angry.  He was already starting to forget was it was like to hear her laugh or how his heart squeezed when he saw tears in her eyes.  He was already starting to forget the exact way she smelled.  Like all human memory, his was unreliable, hardening half of the past and softening the rest.  It was destroying whatever peace of mind he had left.  Yesterday he laid in bed for a half hour and tried to remember exactly where her scar stopped and began.

He was wasting his opportunity abroad by being miserable and depressed.  He had promised himself he’d really move on, that he’d make the most of life without her and so far he’d only made the most of his drinking skills.  He felt guilty for not trying harder.  Jenny’s new husband, Rupert Giles, was a kind man with a lot of connections.  He helped Angel get an internship, gave him a place to stay and seemed to have a fatherly expectation of him to exceed.

He would soon, he decided.  He would tour the countryside and make friends, even find a girlfriend.  Yep.  Any day now, he’d get right on that.  In the meantime, he took another sip of his beer.

“Angel, love.  Someone bought you a drink.  A pretty girl,” the bartender said in her singing voice.  She was one of the few people he actually knew.  Having spent most of his free time in the bar, he knew all of the staff.  He really liked Drusilla, even if she was a few cards short.

“No thanks, Dru,” he said, looking up at her.  She was a beautiful young woman.  If he wasn’t knee deep in Buffy memories, he would have slept with her months ago.

“Come on,” the pretty girl in question said, slipping onto the barstool next to him.  “It’s an older vintage but I’m sort of hoping it will be a nice reminiscence rather than a bad memory.”

He blinked twice, staring at the dark amber of his beer.  He’d been here for quite a few hours.  It was entirely possible he was piss drunk enough to start hallucinating.  Turning his head, he looked at her.

Buffy.

She smiled slightly at him.  He took a deep breath drinking in the sight of her.  She was dressed conservatively, wearing a light blue tanktop covered by a matching cardigan.  Her flowing skirt reached to her ankles and her painted pink toes peeked out of pair of casual sandals.  This wasn’t a hallucination.  In a hallucination, she would have been flashing more cleavage.  “Buffy,” he finally managed to say.

“Hi, Angel,” she said, feeling like the lamest person on the planet.  “I, uh, I bought you a drink,” she said, apparently running with the lameness theme.  “I’m old enough to do that here.”

He looked at the glass.  If he wasn’t mistaken, it was a nicely aged single malt scotch.  He frowned.  “Actually, I think I’ve had enough to drink.”

Her face fell.  “Oh,” she said, obviously wounded.

“No,” he assured her.  “It’s not that I don’t want it, I just ... if I drink that I’m going to have the conversational skills of a carrot.”

“Can we talk?” she asked quietly.  He nodded slowly and tried not to fall on his face when he slid off of his bar stool.  He followed her to a small table in the corner of the bar.  His heart was pounding in his chest as he sat and stared at her face.  He was he stared at her lips, trying to make out the faded scar as he tried to clear his head.

“I should have said something,” she said finally when she had his full attention.  He seemed to be drinking her in and it was unnerving.  “When you walked away that night, I should have said something, anything to keep you with me, but I wasn’t ready.  It wasn’t fair of me to expect you to wait and it wasn’t fair of you to expect me to hurry up.”  She took a deep breath and it came out shuddering.  “I missed you,” she choked, “and before I say anything else I just need to know you’re not going to turn me away.”

“I love you, Buffy,” he rasped back.  “You know damn well the only reason I left is because I could never turn you away.  I had to leave to keep myself away from you.”

“I love you too, Angel,” she said, allowing the tears to streak down her cheeks.  “And I’ve been miserable without you.”

He reached across the table and wrapped his hand around hers, holding it tight.  Her fingers tightened around his, trying to convince herself he really was there.  She sniffled a few times and then smiled weakly at him.  “You have plans tonight?” she asked.

“I’d cancel a date with the Queen for you,” he said and then smiled.  “But, no.  I didn’t have plans.”

She stood without dropping his hands and he let her pull him to his feet.  Trailing behind her, never releasing her hand, he followed her out of the little pub and into the early evening.  They walked down the street, hand in hand, silent for a very long time.

Eventually, Buffy spoke.  “Are you really thinking of staying here for grad school?”

He looked down at her, the stress of the last few months clearly written on his features.  He looked tired, exhausted really.  “I haven’t really given it much thought,” he said.  “The original plan was just for the summer.  I met up with some of my dad’s family here.  They’re trying to convince me to stay.”

“Will you?”

He stopped walking, pulling her into his arms.  He hugged her close, craning his neck until their foreheads touched.  “Not if it means losing you again,” he said.  He moved slightly, slanting his lips over hers.  She pressed closer against him and kissed him back as passionately as she could.  Tears streamed down both of their cheeks as they finally held each other again.

“Let’s go somewhere,” she rasped, clinging tightly to him.  Groaning in agreement, he headed toward the flat and then paused.  Giles and Jenny were probably home and although he had a guest room all to himself, it wasn’t nearly enough privacy.  Turning on his heel, he went in the opposite direction.

“There’s a hotel a couple of blocks down,” he explained, holding her hand tightly.  Their clasped hands were shaking and neither were sure if it was one of them or both.  They walked silently, fearing any moment the dream would end and they would be alone again.

Buffy found herself struggling not to cry when Angel checked them in as Mr. and Mrs. Angelus Chase.  The hotel, or more appropriately, the inn, was small, but it was clean and had a homey feel to it that one would expect to find at a Bed & Breakfast.

Angel turned once the door was closed and pulled her into his arms, attacking her lips with an urgency that was almost desperate.  He threaded his fingers through her long, silky blonde locks moaning as her hands moved over his chest and back as if she needed to map him out again and reacquaint herself with the lines of her lover.

Her fingers were shaking as she fumbled with the buttons on his shirt, causing one to pop off and disappear somewhere in their room.  She giggled against his mouth as she struggled to get the rest of them off, trying to keep herself from just tugging until all the buttons ricocheted around the room.

He shrugged out of his shirt and then pulled her back against him, sliding his hands under her cardigan and tank top and spreading his hands over her warm back.  For a moment he seemed content just to smooth over that warm skin, relishing in the feel of her, but as soon as it began, it was over and he made short work of her sweater and tank top.  Her strapless bra found its place on the floor next to her other discarded clothes, but he didn’t witness its fall.  Leaning in immediately, he took one painfully erect nipple between his lips and swirled his tongue around it.

He backed her to the bed until she fell back on it and slid up the pillows.  Shucking out of his jeans, he followed her quickly, noting that she too had shimmied out of the rest of her clothes.  He rested his hips in the natural cradle between her thighs and entered her immediately groaning in thankfulness at her unbelievably tight, wet heat.

“I was miserable without you,” he said, pulling himself away only to slide back in harder, filling and stretching her to his shape again.  She wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck and moved with him, haphazardly kissing patches of salty skin.

“I came across the world for you,” she choked back, feeling his talented fingers slide between them to caress her swollen clit in time with his movements.  She panted, arching her back and digging her nails into his skin as she neared climax, bucking wildly against him with every thrust.  She erupted, crying out his name and screaming in pleasure as he pounded harder, squeezing his eyes closed with the feeling her inner muscles fluttering around him in release.  Finally, he let go and joined her crying out her name in exquisite pleasure.

When the world once again righted itself, Angel rolled off her, onto his back, pulling her across his chest.  He loved the feel of her, the perfect weight of her body against his.  They didn’t speak, the only sound their labored breathing.  Absently, he ran his fingers through her hair, scattering it across his chest.

“If you’re going to leave me again, please just kill me now, and save me the trouble of dying a lingering death,” he managed to say.  “I saw a letter opener on the desk over there.  You could just stab me through the heart.”

She lifted her head from his chest, looking up at him, ashamed at her past actions.  “I’m not leaving you,” she said.  “Not ever again.”

He cupped her face in his hands, kissing her deeply.  “I’m going to hold you to that,” he swore.

“Good,” she said, returning his kiss with all the passion she felt for him.

Despite an afternoon of hard drinking, Angel’s all consuming hunger for Buffy had him hard for her again in moments.  She stroked him, loving the feel of his rigid flesh between her fingers.  With a devious grin, she straddled him, bracing one hand in the center of his chest while using the other to guide him inside her.  Sighing, she sank down on him, pleasure rippling through her at the feel of him clasped so securely within her body.

The pace was more languid this time, more leisurely and playful.  She teased him, nipping at his lips, giggling when he growled at the frustratingly slow roll of her hips.  “Patience,” she said.  “Don’t you have any idea how long I’ve waited for this?”

“Eight months, fifteen days, twenty hours and sixteen minutes,” he said in all seriousness.

She stopped moving and stared down at him in curious wonder.  He looked chagrinned and wouldn’t meet her gaze.  “That’s how long ago the Alpha Christmas party was,” he mumbled.

Cocking her head to the side, she smiled at him.  “You know how long ago it was to the minute?  Angel, that’s so sweet,” she cooed.

“It’s not fucking sweet,” he said, looking up at her.  “There’s not a godamn sweet thing about it. Each fucking second of it was hell and I’m not letting you get away again.”

“Not trying to escape,” she purred, moving again in slow, deliberate movements.  He slid his hands down her back and cupped her ass, grinding harder against her with every stroke.  Angel gritted his teeth as she teased him, keeping her movements agonizingly slow, biting at his lips and neck and making sure that each muscle of her body played into making love to him.  The exquisite torture of her lovemaking brought them to their peaks together and when they shuddered into completion, it was simultaneous.

***

"So," Jake drawled, slapping his son on the back.  "Eight months, fifteen days, twenty hours and sixteen minutes."

Angel stared blankly at his father wearing his best poker face.  He'd known from the minute Buffy suggested including that in their vows that his father would never let him live it down.  But Jake's teasing grin gave way to something far more serious.  "Was she worth all the misery?" he asked.

Looking across the room, Angel looked at Buffy - his wife.  She was beautiful in her flowing white dress, a delighted smile on her glossy lips.  She chatted with Angel’s mother and grandmother happily, laughing intermittently – no doubt from stories they were telling her about him as a child.  She’d never looked so gorgeous and he’d never loved her more.

“You were right, okay?” Angel said, hiding his grin.  “Happy now, old man?”

“I’m always right, son.  The sooner you realize that, the easier things’ll be,” Jake chuckled, taking a sip of his drink.  His face became serious as he wrapped an arm around his son.  “I’m glad you got your lass in the end.”

“Me too, Dad,” Angel said, still staring across the room at her.

The DJ they hired, who turned out to be a bit more excited about his job than they’d hoped, announced it was time for the father-daughter dance and Buffy’s head shot up, her eyes widening in horror.  Angel cursed under his breath.  That fucking moron.  He told the DJ no fucking father-daughter dance.  Angel was about to head over and beat the man within an inch of his sorry polyester clad life, when Jake stopped him.

“I’ll take care of this,” Jake said.  Angel groaned.  The last thing he needed was his father in a brawl on his wedding day.  Not that he hadn’t intended to do the same thing, but still.  He was shocked when Jake set his drink down and casually walked over to Buffy, extending his hand.

“Want to cut a rug?” he asked, grinning.  Sniffling, she nodded thankfully and headed out to the dance floor with her father-in-law.

“Thank you,” she said as they started to dance.  “I was so embarrassed.”

“What for?” he demanded, spinning her around.  “Let me tell you something, girl.  You’re a Chase now.  We hold our heads up high in this family, you understand?”

“Yeah,” she said, smiling.  “I get it.”

When the song ended, Buffy hugged Jake and kissed his cheek.  Angel crossed the floor and pulled her into his arms, silently thanking his father.  Jake put two fingers to his forehead in a little salute to his son before heading off to find his wife.

“Your family are good people,” Buffy said, cheek to cheek with her husband.

“Yeah, they’ll do,” Angel said, pulling back to smile at her.  His kissed her softly and held her firmly in his arms.

“I can’t believe this is real,” Buffy said, sniffling again.  “We’re really here, married.  You’re all mine and everyone knows it.”

“I can shout it out to the room if you want,” Angel grinned, pulling her off her feet and swinging her around.

“I love you,” she laughed, kissing him.

“I love you too,” Angel answered softly.

The overanxious DJ announced loudly into the microphone at the end of the dance that it was time for the Hokey Pokey and Willow squealed in delight rushing onto the dance floor.  She grabbed Buffy and tugged her out with her and then waved in vain at the rest of the room.  Her enthusiasm was such that soon a large circle of people had joined in.

Angel hung back and watched standing next to Oz in silence.  As the crowd was turning themselves around for the third time, Angel looked at Oz.

“You going to marry her?”  Angel asked with a wry grin.

“You think I’m going to let her get away?” Oz answered stone-faced, as always.  He didn’t look at Angel once, but followed the movements of his nerdy redhead, ecstatic about the silly song.

***

THE END

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