The Lucky Ones
Author's Notes: NC-17, graphic descriptions of sex, violent sex, language, adultery, voyeurism, mentions of BDSM, some D/s, mentions of drug abuse. MULTIPLE CHARACTER DEATH. It's not nice. Don't expect it to be. I don't explain a lot of character motivations. Consider yourselves warned.
Title is taken from "Lucky" by Bif Naked.
Buffy didn’t know what she expected the world to look like when she was forty, but she always figured it would be more Mad Max less Minority Report. She definitely didn’t imagine that she would own no less than three pairs of sensible walking shoes, a membership to a gym and a car fuel efficient enough to qualify them for a tax break. She didn’t envision living in Seattle, being able to wake up every morning and look out over Elliot Bay while drinking a cup of the best steaming coffee modern man could devise. She didn’t think she would be taking Trixie, her Pomeranian, to the groomer’s for her twice monthly shampoo and nail clipping. She didn’t think she would live in a high rise condo or hold down a regular job or have a normal human husband.
But she did.
Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer, was dead, buried in Sunnydale with the now dormant Hellmouth. Buffy Mason, Editor, now stared back at her from the mirror. Buffy still saw a few of the old crew. Anya lived in Manhattan and Buffy would have brunch with her when business took her to the publishing house’s east coast offices. Willow was in San Francisco. It was a two hour flight. Planned right, it could be a day trip. It never was. She saw Willow once a year with the requisite cards on the holidays. Giles was buried in England. She had yet to make the pilgrimage. Xander’s ashes had been scattered at sea. Dawn didn’t speak to her anymore, but Buffy still sent her letters at least once a month.
Buffy’s new friends were pleasant, but reserved in typical white upper class fashion, too busy with their own drama to hover around her like the long forgotten Scoobies. They were blissfully ignorant of her past. Priorities were different. It was the end of the world when they couldn’t get an eight o’clock reservation at DragonFish on a Friday night or if the traffic on I-5 was particularly bad. They were being scandalous and unconventional when they threw sex toy parties or whispered about their lover’s secret vices after a few too many glasses of wine. They swapped horror stories about bad dye jobs and painful botox treatments. They believed she was one of them and after a while, she was.
The condo had three bedrooms, one for her and David, one as an office/gym and one for sporadic company. David never once suggested they get a bigger place “just in case”. He had two children – Amy and DJ - who lived with his harpy of an ex-wife in Portland. Buffy was tolerated by her stepchildren, even liked at times, but they resented her reserved nature. She never pushed. Despite the fact that she and David were the same age, she could never help feeling like Hank’s secretary, the eternal interloper. Amy and DJ could at least rest assured in the fact that she would never be presenting their father with another child to vie for his attention.
David Mason was a wonderful man, a successful architect and occasional freelance writer. He was good looking and well built, if a little on the short side, with sandy blonde hair and eyes so green they looked fake. They met at a party for one of the publishing house’s senior editors. They were introduced over hors d’oeuvres and chatted all the way through a chocolate truffle soufflé. Their courtship was slow and careful. They dated for a long time before they became physical and when he asked her to marry him, she said yes with real tears glittering in her eyes. Their wedding was small and private. She wore baby blue. No family or friends attended on her behalf.
The marriage was good, seven years strong. They had common interests and a retirement plan. Sunday mornings were for crossword puzzles in bed. They spent at least a week kayaking and backpacking in the summer. On her birthday he always took her to the ice show and then made love to her with aching tenderness. Every winter there was a cruise somewhere tropical.
All of these details added up to a life, but they could not begin to explain why Buffy Mason, successful editor, happily married woman, spent her lunch hour every Tuesday and Thursday and all day every third Saturday of the month fucking the man who owned the company that designed and installed the top of the line alarm system for her high rise condo. It didn’t. Unless, of course, you knew about that period from November of 2001 to February of 2002 that Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer, spent coldly fucking her mortal enemy. Because if you knew that, then you knew that occasionally Buffy needed to be punished and the easiest way to do that was to have meaningless animal sex with a man who reminded her of her one true love.
“It’s not time yet,” he said, exhaling a cloud of smoke. “You don’t have to be home to your husband for another thirty minutes.”
She didn’t turn around to face him as she hooked her bra closed and stood, retrieving her skirt from the back of the chair where she had carefully laid it. It wouldn’t do for her clothes to appear rumpled. Her hair was once again in a tight knot at the back of her head, the swollen flesh between her legs already rinsed clean. “There could be traffic,” she said, clasping her necklace. “You know it’s always worse heading north at this time of day. There’s no traffic between my office and home. If I blamed gridlock, he’d know I was lying.”
“He won’t know,” he said gruffly. “He never knows. The putz doesn’t suspect a thing. He’s at home right now watching Jeopardy! and giving that damn rat of yours extra doggie treats.”
She turned, her lips puckered in a frown. “David gives Trixie extra treats?”
“He also has a stack of Playboys hidden in a box in the back of the office closet,” he said with a smirk, pausing to flick ashes. “Sometimes when you’re working late he looks at them and then jerks off in the shower. He seems overly fond of the Christmas issue. I think he has a thing for elves.”
She was nonplussed and turned back to shrug into her suit jacket. There were cameras all over her condo, ostensibly for security purposes but she knew her lover watched - both her and David. She knew she should say something, get rid of him, but she didn’t. “I wish you wouldn’t smoke,” she said.
She could hear him take another drag. “Just tell him you went to Charlie’s for lunch,” he replied dryly. “Tell him you had to sit in the bar.”
“It’s too fresh,” she said. “If it was from lunch, the smell would be stale by now.”
“He doesn’t know that. He’s human.”
Buffy’s eyes lighted on his dresser, on the framed pictures of his son and grandchildren. She turned again to face him. “So are we.”
He smiled, crooked as ever. “But we’re also a little bit more.”
Her brow furrowed and her lips pursed into a tight line. She sighed. “I just don’t like it,” she said. “It brings back bad memories.”
He stood up from the bed, gloriously nude and walked up behind her, pushing his groin against the small of her back. “Angelus isn’t here, Buffy,” he said quietly, his breath hot against the nape of her neck. “It’s just me.”
His arms wrapped around her waist and she stiffened. He was wrinkling her clothes. It was one of their rules. No visible signs. She couldn’t be wrinkled. David might notice. “It’s not Angelus that it reminds me of,” she said quietly. “It’s Spike. He always used to light up after sex.”
Her words had their desired effect and he released her immediately, mutely padding over to the balcony to finish his cigarette. She watched him in the mirror, enjoying the play of his muscles under his skin. Her eyes traced the lines of his tattoo. For a moment she allowed herself to marvel at the fact that he had a reflection, but she quickly pushed it away. She reached for her shoe and delicately slipped it on her foot.
She set her bags down inside the door and leaned over to kiss David on the lips. He smiled. He didn’t taste Angel’s cum on her breath. She always brushed her teeth very carefully. “How was Lacey?” he asked.
“Fine,” she replied, tugging her hair out of its knot, pretending it had been pulling for hours and not just for the fifteen minutes it took her to drive home.
“So she had to reschedule?” he asked, only half paying attention as he waited for the Final Jeopardy answers.
“Yeah, she has an audit on Thursday so we decided to get together this afternoon instead. I wrapped up early.” It wasn’t true. Angel was going to be stuck in Vancouver for the day, so they rearranged schedules rather than canceling. Buffy didn’t know why. She needed to remember to call Lacey to get stories straight. Lacey didn’t mind. She had cheated on her own husband for years. She found it thrilling to help Buffy with her subterfuge.
When David reached for her that night, she gave him a weary smile. He nodded, pressing a gentle kiss to her cheek before rolling over and turning off his light. He was a kind, considerate man. His wife wasn’t feeling well. His needs could wait. She faced the wall, pulling the covers up around her neck.
Angel had money too, but their social circles didn’t intersect. If they had, then maybe it wouldn’t have been such a shock to see him there that night, lounging sexily in one of the chairs at the bar, feigning interest in what some chippie half his physical age was saying. It was the monthly get together with seven other married couples. She and David would make chitchat with the others, pretending to be enthralled by rundowns of their stock portfolios or plans for their next trip to Asia. They would air their own reservations about buying a vacation home in Arizona in this economy. It was supposed to just be another boring evening for a boring married couple.
So why was he there?
Buffy sipped her white wine, all the while watching him out of the corner of her eye. He once told her he wasn’t interested by bad girls. She hadn't believed him then, but she sure didn't believe him now. Whoever the chippie was, she was dressed more for a nightclub than for a restaurant in her short leather skirt, knee high boots and tiny baby t. Buffy felt frumpy in her designer silk suit. The dark pinstriped skirt hit her at the knee and the tailored jacket required no shirt underneath, but didn't even offer the barest hint of sexiness. From thirty paces, Buffy could see the chippie's plentiful breasts straining at the fabric of her shirt. Her long dark curls trailed down her back almost to her waist in a manner that should have seemed childish, but somehow screamed sexpot. When the chippie leaned over and sucked a bit of white sauce off of Angel's fingertips, it was all Buffy could take. "Excuse me," she said politely before retreating to the bathroom.
She had just stepped inside and was turning to lock the door when someone pushed against it. Her eyes caught with Angel's and she held her hand out, barring his way. With a smirk, he easily pushed past her and entered the small room. Scandalized, Buffy glared at him as she quickly shut the door and locked it. "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded in a harsh whisper.
He looked at the counter and then at her. "I'll give you one guess," he said.
"I don't think so," she replied dryly.
He stepped closer, running a fingertip along the exposed edge of her collarbone. "You've been watching me all night," he said, his lips curling into a satisfied smile.
"I've been watching a man make a fool of himself with a child half his age all night," she snapped.
"Tsk, tsk," he chided, unperturbed by her censure, "jealousy doesn't look good on you."
"My husband is waiting," she said coldly.
His eyes narrowed. "Turn around, grab the counter and spread your legs," he ordered.
"If you even think - "
His hands on her hips forced her around and she had to reach for the counter to keep from falling. One of his feet forced hers apart and his hands skimmed her skirt up to her thighs. Their gazes locked in the mirror. "Are you honestly going to tell me you don't want this?" he asked, his breath puffing against her ear. "They're all out there. Your husband, your friends, my date. They're waiting for us." He ground his erection against her and she bit down on her bottom lip. One of his hands unbuttoned her jacket and slid inside to cup a breast. "Let me fuck you," he whispered harshly.
Buffy held his gaze in the mirror for several tense moments before dropping her gaze to the tiled countertop while widening her stance. She felt him unfastening those damn leather pants of his and her panties were already damp. He should look ridiculous in leather at his age, it was a given. But he didn’t look ridiculous. Damn him. He pulled her skirt up to her waist and chuckled as he saw she was wearing thigh high pantyhose and a thong. He hooked his finger under the waistband of her thong. “On or off?” he asked.
“On,” she said. She felt him maneuver the material aside and then the head of his cock was probing at her entrance.
“This is awful racy for a work day,” he mused.
Buffy looked up and caught his eyes in the mirror. He was smiling broadly. “It’s Friday night, Angel,” she said. “I wore it for my husband.”
His frown died and with one thrust, he buried himself inside her body. “You’ve fucked him twice in the last month, Buffy,” he said, grunting as he thrust again. “Do you really expect me to believe that?”
She didn’t argue with him. She couldn’t. She bit down on her bottom lip, arching back against him. “What about your date?” she gasped. “Surely she’s getting bored. Children have such short attention spans.”
He chuckled and placed a wet, open-mouthed kiss on the nape of her neck. “Gia knows where I am,” he said.
“Right,” she managed to grind out, pressing back against him as much as her precarious position would allow.
He leaned over her, one hand grasping her chin as he pressed his cheek to hers. He forced her to look in the mirror, to meet his gaze. “Gia knows all about you, Buffy,” he said. “She knows the things I do to you. She knows what I’m doing right now and how. I told her exactly what I was planning before I followed you in here.”
Buffy’s expression went utterly cold. “We don’t discuss this with anyone,” she said tautly.
He smirked, releasing her chin. “No names,” he clarified. “She doesn’t know who you are, just the details. She knows lots and lots of details. She’s my confessor. It gets her wet.”
Buffy dropped her eyes let out a breath. She was satisfied that he hadn’t violated their one cardinal rule. Her satisfaction was tainted, however, by the mention of his whore. But she would never let him know that.
Her relief irritated him and he thrust harder. “Gia knows about the time I ate you out in the dressing room at Nordstrom in front of the three way mirror. She knows that I took you on a harbor cruise in the middle of the day while you were supposed to be shopping for a baby shower present. She knows I fingered you the entire time. She knows that sometimes you like me to call you a slut and fuck you in the ass so hard you cry.”
She wouldn’t look up, she wouldn’t meet his gaze and that made him even madder, gripping her hips tight – too tight – he slammed into her for several more thrusts, grunting as he spilled inside her body.
He was breathing harshly, slumped against her. Buffy waited, teeth clenched tightly, legs trembling. He could just leave it like this. But as his hand reached around and fumbled under the material of her thong, finding her clit, Buffy knew he wouldn’t. Despite his coarse words and sometimes childish behavior, Angel only ever caused her pain at her request or provocation. She whimpered, pressing against his hand and he didn’t tease. He rubbed her with strong, sure strokes, holding her as she climaxed.
She feigned a migraine. She never went back to the table, instead slipping out to the car and calling David on the cell. Her appearance wouldn’t hold up under harsh lights. David was mute on the short ride home. He knew how sound bothered her headaches. Without a word, she went into the master bath and locked the door. She put her suit in the bottom of the laundry bag, making a mental note to take it to the dry cleaner tomorrow, before the stain set.
She showered carefully, washing every trace of Angel from her body. Her hands lingered on her hips and she cursed. They were tender. Tomorrow she would have perfect fingertip bruises on both hips. Damn him. He was constantly pushing her limits, seeing how much he could get away with.
He’d done it before, regardless of her adamant rule about no visible signs. First there were the teeth marks on her shoulder. She didn’t talk to him for two weeks. It took him a while to realize she wasn’t playing with him. He resorted to scheduling a meeting with her like a normal person, ostensibly to discuss modifications to the security system in her home. He was contrite, his manner reserved and professional. Her secretary never suspected there was anything clandestine about the appointment. As he was leaving, he handed her a small, nondescript bag. It contained a tiny stuffed pig and a copy of this obscure little French art film called Le Banquet D'Amelia. She caught him before he reached the elevators. She walked him out to his car and sucked him off in the parking garage. After work, she went down to the International District and bought a kimono. It now hung on the back of his bathroom door.
He was careful enough after that first offense – until she told him that she and David would be going to Jamaica over Christmas for three weeks. He hadn’t said anything, but before she left his apartment that afternoon, he smacked her on the ass hard enough to leave a perfect handprint. It ensured she could not lounge around in a bikini like she planned.
She let him get away with so many things she wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else and she hated herself for it. But she couldn’t seem to stop. His pranks were one of the few forms of retribution she allowed him. Part of her also knew that at times, she goaded him into it. His smirking pissed her off. One afternoon, he was feeling quite proud of the fact that he had fucked her on his balcony where anyone who dared to look up could get a free show. His air of self-satisfaction grated on her nerves. She informed him that exhibitionism was fine, but that strangers really didn’t count. She told him about the time she fucked Spike in the kitchen while Dawn, Xander and Willow watched a movie in the next room. He hadn’t said a word, but a week later, he gave her a matching set of hickeys on her breasts, so deep they took weeks to heal.
Of course, he would occasionally do other things to get his point across. Like mentioning Gia. Buffy knew he had other lovers. He wasn't shy about the fact that if she wouldn't sate all of his hungers, that someone would. He liked them young. He liked them kinky. With his looks and wealth, he had little trouble filling the bill. But she also knew that she had more sway than his other lovers. None of them kept a robe hanging in his bathroom. None of them were free to call him any time night or day. None of them fucked him without a condom. Buffy wasn't certain, but she also suspected that none of them got to tie him up and remind him of what a very, very bad boy he had been. He seemed rather apathetic about most of them unless he was trying to use them to wound her. There were never any signs of them - either around his apartment or on his body. Buffy didn't return the favor. She didn't play well with Angel's other lovers. On those rare occasions when he would mention an upcoming date, she would slip; nails marks down the back, hickey on the hip, panties in the bathroom. He never complained.
She turned off the shower and patted herself dry, wrapping up in a soft cotton robe before walking to the vanity. She stared at the marble countertop, the shiny chrome fixtures. Two sinks, her side and David’s, everything perfectly arranged. She reached for her toothbrush and carefully squeezed out her whitening toothpaste. She hadn’t kissed Angel tonight. He knew better than to mess up her lipstick. But dental hygiene was always important.
Angel’s bathroom was a mess, along with the rest of his apartment. It never failed to irritate her, or astound her. His fastidiousness went the way of his vampirism. Human Angel was a slovenly hedonist and obscenely proud of it. Apparently when faced with a finite amount of time left in the mortal coil, he found more important ways to engage his efforts. She knew his cleaning lady could probably afford a mansion in the Magnolia District for what he had to pay her. Not that Manuela didn’t earn it. How that woman managed to get chocolate syrup stains off of a white suede couch was a well kept secret. And there were other things Manuela was paid not to notice, like the tie down points mounted to the bedroom walls. Once upon a time Angel, in the guise of Angelus, bemoaned the fact that they’d never had time to try chains. Their repertoire was no longer so lacking. And neither did Manuela, consummate professional that she was, mention her employer’s predilection for video cameras and TV monitors. Aside from the times they met outside his apartment, Buffy knew that all of their intimate moments were catalogued for posterity. Sometimes she lay awake at night wondering when Angel would get angry enough to send some of the discs to David. But she never asked him to turn off the cameras.
Buffy spit out the toothpaste and looked at her reflection in the mirror. With well practiced moves, she reached for her designer moisturizer and went about her daily ritual of holding the press of time at bay.
Trixie’s incessant barks alerted Buffy long before the knock on the door. It was early, too early to be up on a Sunday morning. She was sipping what remained of the cup of coffee she shared with David before he left for the airport. She set the mug on the counter, wrapping her robe more tightly around her body as she cracked open the door.
“You spent millions on the fucking security system and you didn’t even bother to look first, did you?”
She frowned. “I didn’t need to look,” she noted dryly. “Trixie hates you.”
Angel put his hand on the door and pushed it open, walking past her into the apartment as he glared at the yapping dog. At least once a month, Buffy stopped by after a trip to the groomer. Trixie had ruined two chairs and almost got a hold of his favorite leather duster. Buffy was forced to intervene, locking herself and Trixie in the bathroom until Angel promised he wouldn’t wring the dog’s neck like he threatened. “Fucking rat,” he muttered, kicking towards the Pomeranian who avoided contact with a yelp, scurrying off to hide under a desk.
She stared at him from the still open doorway. “You can’t be here,” she said firmly.
He looked over his shoulder and smirked, turning the corner and flopping down onto the couch comfortably. He put his booted heels on the glass coffee table. Buffy closed the door and walked into the living room, facing him. “You can’t be here,” she repeated coldly.
“He left,” Angel said blandly. “I saw him pull out of the parking garage. I know he won't be back until late Tuesday afternoon. I’m not going anywhere.”
Her posture was rigid, her hands balled into fists. This was the first time he had the gall to show up at her home. Even when the security system had been installed, he hadn’t been present. It wasn’t until the next week when she went in to finish signing contracts that she caught a shocking glimpse of the handsome, single proprietor of the elite surveillance and security firm. He smiled at her in a way that let her know he’d planned the “chance” encounter.
His arrogance irked her. She politely declined her old friend’s suggestion of coffee. She ignored her fellow business professional when he showed up at her obscenely expensive gym to do nothing more taxing than watch her run on a treadmill. But when her former lover brushed past her into her suite in Chicago and fucked her on the small breakfast table, she didn’t utter a single word of protest. The hotel staff was informed that Mr. Mason decided to join his attractive wife for a brief vacation and sight seeing while she attended a conference. They didn’t question what sights could possibly be seen when they ordered room service for every meal.
After that, they had standing dates. For a year and a half, barring the times he was on her bad side, they never went more than five days without meeting. And on all those myriad occasions, their affair was always conducted on his turf – his apartment, his office, his car. Never once had he been to her home.
“People could see,” she said tightly.
He snorted, clicking on the television. “Buffy, I’m the only one who watches you in the privacy of your own home,” he replied.
She glared at him, but it was obvious he wasn’t going to move. With much irritation, she retrieved her mostly empty mug from the counter and refilled it. Huffing her indignation, she joined him on the opposite end of the couch. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look at her. He merely flipped through channels until he found an old movie that had just started. Despite her festering irritation, Buffy was distracted by the movie and eventually relaxed, getting lost in the story. It was late morning by the time the movie finished and Buffy yawned. As Angel grabbed her ankle and pulled her across the couch, she frowned, but didn’t fight. Her empty coffee cup landed soundlessly on the carpeted floor. She helped him out of his clothes and she let him fuck her on the sofa that she and David spent two months fighting over. She wanted loose cushions. David said they would get in the way and wanted attached. She won. David was right.
They fell asleep on the couch, his body spooned possessively around hers. She woke first, listening to the easy rhythm of his breathing. The early afternoon sun was warm and golden, streaming through the large open windows. She marveled at the contrast of his tanned hand – human Angel was also a consummate outdoorsman in addition to slovenly hedonist – splayed across the creamy pale flesh of her abdomen. She watched the sunlight glint off of his ring. He still wore his Claddagh, heart inward, ring finger, left hand. It reappeared shortly after they started their bi-weekly meetings. She never asked and he never offered. Some time ago she started dropping her wedding ring into the change pouch of her billfold on her way over to his apartment. Right now that ring sat on the kitchen counter next to the coffeepot. She threaded her fingers through his and fell asleep again.
He woke grousing about a kink in his neck. He lay still, nearly purring as Buffy carefully worked it out with her strong fingers and he rewarded her with a long, deep kiss that left her breathless. They probably would have had another round on the sofa, but both of their stomachs growled loudly. Buffy ordered takeout from the Thai place down the street. She tipped Thuan, the regular delivery boy and paid for the order in cash. Angel pretended not to notice when she put the empty cartons in a sack by the door so she wouldn’t forget to remove them from the condo before David came home.
For the majority of the day, he indulged her irritating need for discretion. He turned off the TV when she got up to answer the phone. He even suffered the indignity of sitting in her office while Lacey stopped by to drop off a chafing dish. His pain was mitigated as he browsed through all of her private email. He smiled when he realized that the electronic receipt for her newest negligee referred to the same one that was now crumpled in his sock drawer. But his smile died as it lighted on a picture of the Masons on their wedding day. Buffy looked pretty as always, but distant. Her smile was fake. Angel wondered if David even knew that.
David Mason didn’t know his wife, Angel was certain of that much. The dependable architect hadn’t led a life that could even allow him to appreciate the depth that was Buffy. Of course, it wasn’t David’s fault he was boring, it just happened. And Buffy encouraged it. With him, she was bland in a way that should have been sacrilege.
David Mason had no idea that his wife preferred manacles to handcuffs. He didn’t know that she liked it doggie style, on all fours, with a hand at the back of her neck forcing her forehead into the mattress. David didn’t know that if you bit down on her neck, just where it flowed into her shoulder, that she would come so hard it felt like your cock was going to pop.
But those were only a few of her secrets. David was blissfully ignorant that his wife could understand at least four different demon languages, two fluently. He didn’t know that on those times when you made love to Buffy – rather than fucking her – that you needed to allow for extra time afterwards, so you could hold her while she cried. He didn’t know why she always changed the radio station when “Wild Horses” came on. He didn’t understand why she hated hospitals and piers and refused to participate in any organized religion. His life experience didn’t allow him to look at her expression as she stared into the space off of their balcony and read her desire to jump.
But David wasn’t completely oblivious. He had learned – the hard way – that surprising his wife on her birthday was not a good thing. He also figured out – after the second time Buffy was unexpectedly overcome by the flu – that the trip to Ireland wasn’t happening. He knew that she needed a lot of solitude and David granted her that. He didn’t push. He didn’t pry. He didn’t demand to know why her sister sometimes called and left rambling, drunken messages on their voicemail accusing Buffy of a litany of deeds too horrid to contemplate. He didn’t try to break down the icy reserve because he thought was just a part of who she was.
David Mason was wrong.
Lacey finally left and Angel didn’t argue when Buffy made sandwiches rather than risk venturing out of the building together. He didn’t complain when she wanted to spend the evening lounging around the apartment. She curled up in one corner of the couch, next to the lamp. With her reading glasses perched on the end of her nose, she read through the latest manuscript, occasionally making notes in the margin. Angel spent more time watching her than the basketball game on TV. Their time together always held an element of frantic urgency. He never had moments like this to watch her in such a banal domestic setting. He had five thousand dollars riding on the game, but watching Buffy proof was still more enthralling. His heart beat faster just looking at her.
Something reckless came over Angel, something he had been fighting off for months. He pinched her toes, much in the manner of a little boy teasing a little girl. She glared at him, kicking him away halfheartedly before she folded her feet under her body. She turned her attention back to the manuscript.
“Leave him,” Angel blurted out.
Buffy kept reading. She sighed and turned the page, adjusting her glasses.
Angel frowned. He poked her in the thigh. “Leave him,” he repeated.
Buffy looked at Angel, her expression nonplussed. She rolled her eyes and turned back to the manuscript. “And do what? Run away with you?” she asked sardonically.
His frown turned into a full-fledged glower and he smacked the manuscript out of her hands, sending it skidding across the floor. She glared at him and he glared right back unrepentantly. “I was working,” she ground out.
“I want to talk about our relationship,” he countered nastily.
She snorted. “We don’t have a relationship, Angel. We have sex.”
He physically recoiled as if she had hit him. His eyes narrowed predatorily. His demon was gone, Buffy knew that much for certain. But for a moment, his expression was pure Angelus.
“You’re right,” he said flippantly, “we have a lot of really nasty sex. That time in my office with your tits pressed against the window, that was a good one. Or maybe the observation deck. No wait, I’ve got it, that time you dressed up like a Catholic school girl and you let me spank your ass red before I nearly fucked you unconscious. I think that was my favorite. Of course, I never told you how much the outfit reminded me of Darla.”
Her complexion went perfectly ashen and he saw her start to tremble.
He advanced on her, pinning her to the couch. She turned away and his breath was hot against her ear. “There was also the time that we were walking along the pier and it started raining,” he said, his voice raw. “We were soaked through. We got that hotel room and you were shivering. You said, ‘just kiss me’. Don’t you dare insult me by trying to pretend I don’t know exactly what you meant.”
She screwed her eyes shut, trying in vain to block out his words.
“What about that time you licked ice cream off my chest and then started crying? We didn’t even fuck that afternoon, Buffy. I just held you and you cried. Your fingers dug into my arms so deep I had bruises for weeks.”
He pulled back and grabbed her chin. He made her look at him. “I’m not Spike,” he growled. “We may have a lot of nasty fun together, but this isn’t just fucking. And I’m not that putz of a husband of yours either. I don’t buy all your happily sanitized, color-coordinated bullshit. I know your secrets, Buffy. All of them. And I still want you.” There were tears in her eyes and he let her go. With a few muttered curses, he retreated to the other end of the couch, his arm thrown over his eyes in disgust.
The moment stretched on indefinitely. Actual physical pain ate at her insides. Ever so tentatively, Buffy approached him. He didn’t move. She put her hands against his chest and he didn’t move. Carefully, she pressed her head to his chest, her ear over his heart. She waited, trembling.
His arms wrapped around her, cradling her against his chest. They didn’t talk. The kisses were cautious at first, gentle. They were about comfort and reassurance. Things progressed slowly. There were no lewd whispers, no vulgar but exciting actions. They kissed for endless moments, sharing one breath. They looked into each other’s eyes as he slipped inside her body. She reached two peaks before he joined her. And even when it was done, he didn’t leave the shelter of her body.
Buffy groaned, sleeping all night on the couch’s limited space with someone as big as Angel was not the most comfortable thing she had ever done. She pushed herself into a sitting position and looked down at her sleeping lover. His arm – as always – was wrapped around her waist even though he was unconscious.
She studied his stubble-roughened cheeks in the cold morning light. This was stolen time. These early morning hours did not belong to them. Not when she was still Buffy Summers and not now that she was Buffy Mason. They had moments, fevered slivers of time. It was better that way. Safer. They couldn’t get tired of each other or bored. They weren’t afforded the opportunity to take things for granted.
Stealthily, she slipped from his embrace and padded down the hall to the master bath. She turned on the light and stared at the vanity. That was her life; everything ordered, precise. She required that stability, that ritual. She needed to know that every Thursday at eight fifteen pm, David called his children and spoke for exactly thirty-seven minutes. She needed to know that every second Sunday the Masons would drive to Bellevue and meet the Pattersons for a late brunch. She needed to know that everything had its place.
Because if one thing – one tiny little thing – was allowed to slip, everything could come crashing down. And that was not acceptable.
She couldn’t give up Angel. She knew that with a certainty that sickened her. He defied her logic, he tested her limits. She hated that. Her hatred didn’t change the fact that she needed him. But Angel had to be compartmentalized. He couldn’t be allowed to roam freely through her life like a bull in a china shop.
She had been in the shower for at least ten minutes before Angel entered. He didn’t say anything and Buffy couldn’t really gauge his mood. She got some idea of it when he grabbed David’s razor and used it to shave. She frowned. He ignored her. She didn’t marvel at the fact that he didn’t use the little steam proof mirror suctioned to the wall. After two and a half centuries, he damn well better be able to shave without looking.
She showered, unconcerned with his voyeurism. He watched her do this all the time – he just usually wasn’t actually in the water with her when he did it. She ignored the tension and he ignored the tension and somehow they both managed to get clean.
Once out of the shower, she held out a folded towel to him. He didn’t smirk, but he did grab David’s towel, ignoring her offering. In what was undoubtedly a huge show of civility on his part, he actually hung the towel back up when he was finished. Buffy stood at the vanity, combing out her wet locks and applying make-up. Angel watched her, but his eyes kept flicking to the bedroom door. He stood up and walked over to it.
“Don’t,” Buffy said firmly, not pausing in her routine as she applied mascara.
Angel turned around and looked at her. “Why?” he demanded.
“You know why,” she answered dryly.
He crossed his arms over his chest, walking to stand behind her so she could see him in the mirror. “We discussed this last night,” he said.
“You discussed it last night,” she countered.
“You didn’t argue.”
She reached for her perfume and rubbed it behind her ears and on her wrists. With an elegant move, she shrugged out of her robe and stood. She sauntered over to him. Her fingers traced over his chest. “You get so many parts of me that he’ll never have,” she said quietly. “That has to be enough.”
And it was. For a while.
Buffy called in sick. She was violating a few of her own set-in-stone rules, but she knew certain concessions had to be granted. He made omelets, she burned toast. There was a strange truce and they ate standing up in the kitchen, making chitchat that ranged from the bland to the obscene.
He was restless, pacing around the apartment, unnerving Trixie. He wanted to go down to the marketplace. She didn’t want to risk being seen together. She didn’t admit that, but his temper became waspish nonetheless. She relented, grabbing a jacket as she headed for the door. In the parking garage, she discovered he’d parked his black Mercedes in David’s parking spot. He tactfully decided to drive into the mountains instead.
The drive was long and scenic. They listened to old jazz CDs, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Sarah Vaughn. Buffy dozed, Angel’s hand warm on her thigh. They stopped in a tiny little town and had coffee and pie. Buffy tried an Agent Cooper impression that was completely lost on Angel. They threw rocks into a stream, made out on a roadside picnic table. They picked up a pizza on their way back into the city. Buffy waited in the car.
They settled back into the condo. Buffy watched the news and Angel read through the previously abused manuscript, chuckling to himself. Everything was surrounded by a strange fragility that could not last.
David called shortly after ten to wish her a good night. She called him honey. She confirmed their plans to go to the symphony on Friday night. She reminded him to get the parking receipt at the airport for his reimbursement form.
Angel listened to his lover go about her daily routine of being Mrs. David Mason. Their truce dissolved in an instant. Angel’s mouth found the tender flesh of her inner thigh as she chatted with her husband. She gently urged him away. He didn’t take the hint. She pushed harder. So did he.
Her glare could have frozen ice, but he ignored it completely, pressing his face against the juncture of her thighs. She fisted her hand in his hair and yanked violently. His hand wrapped around her wrist, minimizing her efforts, but he didn’t stop. His hand forced her skirt up to her waist. His tongue slipped under the edge of her panties, and her bare heels kicked painfully into his back. She did an admirable job of keeping her voice even as she professed her love for her husband. But she wasn’t unaffected. She cut the conversation as short as possible without being rudely abrupt. As soon as the phone was off, she swung back to hit him as hard as she could.
He caught her hand and hauled her off the couch with a growl as he stomped down the hallway to the bedroom. He threw her on the bed – David’s bed. He pushed her back into the pillows – David’s pillows. And he stripped and fucked his lover – David’s wife. She snarled, clawing at his shoulders like a wild thing. She bit him hard enough to draw blood and raked her nails across his face. She bucked and twisted, kicking and kneeing.
But she never said ‘no’.
As he finally thrust inside her body, she let out a mournful, keening wail of defeat. Her protests died, her body going limp. He kissed the tears that fell from the corners of her eyes, but he did not stop. He pounded into her unresisting body, his actions ceasing only when he was trembling and spent.
He stayed that way for a long time, collapsed over her body, listening to her raw, hiccupping sobs. He drew in a deep, ragged breath and buried his face against her shoulder. He roared, all of his rage and pain tearing out of his throat until the sound finally died in a horrible choking sob. His tears wet her skin and he groaned, cursing against her flesh, "I still love you, you selfish, broken bitch. I always have."
He pushed himself off of her and Buffy watched him go, unable to even cover herself. Angel looked at her, shaking his head as he backed out of the room. It wasn't until she heard the front door slam that she could finally move, curling into a tiny little ball.
It was in that moment that confident, poised, successful Buffy Mason, happily married woman, successful editor, fell completely and utterly apart.
She was still curled in a fetal ball with Trixie nervously licking the tears from her face when David found her shortly after sunset Tuesday. There were bruises on her wrists, her thighs, her shoulder. There was a copious amount of blood smeared on the light beige Egyptian cotton sheets, though he could find no visible wounds. There was semen.
Buffy wasn't talking. David called the police. An ambulance took Buffy to the hospital. A rape kit was done. Police searched the apartment. They found Buffy's wedding ring on the kitchen counter and a coffee mug overturned in the living room. Buffy still wasn't talking.
Without the victim's cooperation, police could little more than ascertain the facts. There was intercourse, probably taking place over several days. There were no signs of latex, lubricant or spermicide associated with a condom, so the assailant probably hadn't used one. Her vaginal tissues were swollen and slightly bruised, but it was not consistent with what they would expect from a violent, prolonged, repeated rape. The assailant had not been careful. There were at least five different DNA samples; hair, skin, blood, saliva, semen. They were easily retrievable from Buffy's body, from under her fingernails, from the sheets on the bed.
The hospital released her and David drove her home in absolute silence. He had listened to the rape counselor carefully. He did not touch her unnecessarily. He called Lacey from the hospital and she met them at the condo. David thought Buffy might be more comfortable with another woman than she would be with him. He slept fitfully in the spare bedroom. Buffy didn't sleep at all. Lacey kept her company, but Buffy wasn't opening up to anyone. She wasn't eating. They got her to take a shower, but she wouldn't get dressed. The bedding had all been replaced. Trixie didn't make it to her grooming appointment.
The police detective showed up early Thursday morning. Detective Graves was a somber man, dressed in an ill fitting suit. Without a statement from Buffy, he could only go on the cold, hard facts. For reasons unknown, the security company could not locate a record of the cameras positioned throughout the home. But even without the video, there was no evidence of forced entry into the apartment. While intercourse had been established, rape was not clear. DNA samples taken from the rape kit matched saliva on the chopsticks found in the takeout, waiting to be thrown away. The delivery boy from the Thai restaurant hadn't seen a man, but he knew Mrs. Mason. She had not seemed unduly stressed.
Detective Graves’ manner was gentle and respectful. He asked David if his wife had been distant lately. He inquired into the Mason’s sex life. After a deep breath, he asked if David suspected his wife might be having an affair.
David looked at Detective Graves helplessly. He sat down heavily on the couch, staring blankly out the window. His hands shook. He loved his wife. He only wanted to help her.
Lacey stood in the doorway, trying not to be noticed. Detective Graves questioned her about a possible affair. She claimed ignorance. David, haggard and beaten, clearly falling apart asked Lacey, appealing to her duty as a friend. Buffy needed help. They needed to understand what had happened.
Lacey cried. She admitted there was someone, though she didn't know his name. She told Detective Graves that Buffy and her lover started their affair more than a year ago. He was a big guy, dark hair. Buffy never mentioned a name. Lacey didn’t know how they met.
Detective Graves patted David encouragingly on the shoulder. He closed the case. He delicately suggested that David see a doctor. Buffy was not practicing safe sex with her lover. She had put David at risk. Detective Graves left.
Lacey waited in the living room. David entered the bedroom quietly. Buffy was awake, staring blindly at the wall. Trixie curled around her feet. David sat on the bed, he held his wife’s hand. He told her he knew there was someone else.
“Did he hurt you?” David asked, trying to keep his voice even.
Buffy looked at her husband, at this gentle, quiet man whose life she was tearing to pieces. She shook her head. “No more than I deserved,” she said.
It didn’t matter to David that the police considered the case closed. He knew his wife had been unfaithful and that was a bitter pill. But he still loved her and he needed to know what happened.
The security company was largely unhelpful. There was no record of feed from the Mason cameras. They didn’t have anything. David showed them cancelled checks for the exorbitant prices he paid for the service contract. They referred him to the executive offices. The administrative assistant assured him the president of the company was not available. She asked him to leave his name. Suddenly the president was available.
David was ushered into the executive office. The secretary was jumpy, like someone used to living under constant fire. She announced him and quickly retreated.
The man walked out from behind the desk. He handed David a check that was a refund of every cent paid their company. He said, “There are no tapes.”
He was a big guy, dark hair. He had nail marks across the left side of his face.
“Is she okay?”
“No,” David said. “She’s not.”
“I love her,” Angel said, “just so you know.”
“So do I,” David replied.
Angel shook his head slowly. “Not like I do.”
Buffy was sitting on the couch when David returned, absently brushing Trixie. She looked at him, her expression so vulnerable, a woman drowning. “I’m sorry,” she said.
He sat down on the couch next to her, his hands gripping his knees. He took several deep breaths. “I saw him,” he said.
The brushing stopped. Trixie jumped off the couch and hid under a desk. “I didn’t ... I, uh ... How?”
“It’s the guy who owns our security company, right?” David asked, his voice somehow lacking bitter accusation. “He’s the one you’ve been ... seeing?”
Buffy wrapped her arms around her middle. “Yes,” she admitted.
He laughed to himself. “I was going to take care of all that myself,” he said. “I remember. I was going to go down there but I got held up on a project, so you went instead.”
“David,” she said, placing her hand on his arm. David looked at her hand and she slowly withdrew it. Buffy swallowed thickly. “I’ve known him for a long time,” she explained. “When I was in high school we ... There’s a history.”
David smiled tightly. “That’s a consolation, I suppose,” he said. “At least you didn’t just pick up some random stranger.”
She winced and his expression was contrite. She held up a hand to silence his apology. “I deserved that,” she said.
He stood up and paced around the room for several minutes. Eventually he came to stand before her, crouching down into a squat. “I don’t want us to be over,” he admitted.
Her bottom lip trembled. “I don’t either.”
“So how do we fix this?” he asked.
She clasped her hands together, staring down at them. “We need to leave,” she said. “Leave town. We keep talking about moving to Arizona. Maybe now is the right time for us. We could start over. Away from here.”
David stooped lower to catch her eyes. She looked at him sadly. “Is that what you want?” he asked.
“It’s what I want,” she answered.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, rising to his feet. “You hurt me, Buffy, more than I ever thought possible. The things you did – I didn’t have any idea you were capable of that kind of behavior.”
A tear streamed down her cheek.
“But if you really want to make this work, if you really want to start over with me, then he needs to know that it’s over. We’re not running. We're not hiding. Our life is here and he needs to know that.”
Buffy looked away. “I don’t want - ... I can’t.”
“If you want a life with me, you will,” he said. Buffy turned to look at her gentle, reserved husband. He was holding the phone out to her. “Call him,” he said.
Buffy looked at the phone, shifting uncomfortably. “I don’t - I don’t know how to get ahold of him.”
David shook his head, taking her hand and placing the phone in it. “This man has been your lover for the last twenty months,” he said, his voice firm. “Call him. Tell him to come over. This needs to be face to face.”
Buffy looked at the phone, biting down on her bottom lip. She closed her eyes tightly and then opened them again. She nodded. She stood up and walked over to the far corner of the living room. She dialed the number. She kept her voice low. She spoke in one word answers. She turned to face David, handing him the phone. “He’s on his way,” she said.
Buffy blushed when Angel entered the room, unable to meet his eyes. He looked haggard and it pulled at her insides. He walked up to her, touching her cheek gently. “Are you okay?” he asked.
She nodded, stepping away from him as her eyes welled with tears.
Angel dropped his hand, sighing. “I’m here,” he said flatly to David.
David nodded. “Buffy?” he prompted.
Buffy looked at her husband, her eyes wide.
“I can’t do this for you,” David said.
Buffy’s mouth opened and closed like a fish. She snapped it shut. She looked at Angel. His expression was defiant, angry. “I, uh,” she stuttered. “David and I.” She fell silent. “David and I are going t-t-to try and work things out,” she said in a rush.
Angel nodded. “You are?”
She nodded frantically. Moving forward was the only way to get through this. “We are.”
“So it’s over?” he asked in a biting tone.
She nodded again. “It’s over.”
“Fine,” he said tightly, “but you have to do one thing.”
Buffy looked at him warily. Her gaze shot to David whose expression was passive. “What?” she asked, completely certain she didn’t want the answer.
Angel looked at her - at the only woman he had ever loved in three hundred years of living. “Tell me that you don’t love me.”
It was like being punched in the stomach. She could smell the mansion’s stale air. She could see him standing there all in black, stricken but unable to lie to her. She could feel her heart breaking.
“Buffy?” David prompted, touching her shoulder lightly.
She jerked away from him, wrapping her arms around herself. “You bastard!” she spat at Angel.
His expression was firm, aggressive. “Just say it, Buffy, if you want me out of your life, then tell me that you don’t love me.”
She backed up against the wall and slowly slid down into it, wrapping her legs against her chest. She whined like a wounded animal.
Angel advanced, he grabbed her upper arms and pulled her to her feet. "You've never been a coward, Buffy. Tell me," he demanded.
"Hey," David barked, his hand on Angel's arm.
Angel released Buffy, planting the heel of his hand in the middle of David's chest, sending him stumbling backwards. "Don't you fucking touch me!" Angel snarled.
David never rose from his crouch, he merely launched himself at Angel, tackling the much larger man around the waist and sending them both sprawling over the back of the couch. Buffy immediately joined the fray, pushing the two of them apart. Neither of them could reach the other without hurting her so they both fell back, glaring.
Angel rose to his feet, panting. "She won't tell me," Angel said. "So if you want to win like that, then go ahead, but have a happy life knowing that your wife is in love with someone else." He turned and walked out without another word, slamming the door behind himself.
David mutely accepted the icepack, pressing it against his temple where he had clipped the coffee table. Buffy sat down across from him, her hands clasped in front of her.
David sighed. "I just don't understand, Buffy," he said. "I don't understand how you could … be with someone like that."
She looked up, her brow furrowed.
"The way he touches you," David explained. "The way he treats you. Buffy I saw you when I came home from Philadelphia. I saw what he did to you."
"It's not like …" she trailed off, rubbing her temple. "You don't understand," she said wearily.
He nodded. "You are right," he admitted. "I don't. I thought I knew you. You're my wife. I sleep next to you every night. I share my life with you. But I don't know who you are."
She looked at him, anguish written on her features. Abruptly, she turned away, staring out the window at the night.
"Does he know you?" David asked.
Buffy sniffled, another tear falling down her cheek. She nodded. "Therein lies the problem," she said, her voice hoarse. "He knows all of the things I try to forget."
David laid the ice pack down on the table. He took Buffy's trembling hands in his own. "Do you want to remember?" he asked.
"No," she said adamantly. Another sob escaped her throat. "But I think maybe I need to."
Buffy took an indefinite leave of absence from her job. She boarded a plane for England. She didn’t tell David. She didn’t tell Angel. The weather was horrible, the food was worse. It took her three hours to find the cemetery.
She looked down at the grave, so different from her mother’s. It was old, the grass covering Giles’ body well established. She knelt down in front of the headstone, mindless of the wet grass. In a voice more befitting a frightened child than a grown woman, she begged her father for forgiveness.
The cab was waiting. Buffy let it wait.
She broke down sobbing like she hadn’t done since her mother died – like she swore she would never do again. She apologized to Giles for disrespecting him. She apologized for letting him think she didn’t need him. She apologized for not being there when he needed her.
“I’m sorry I let you die,” she sobbed.
“I miss you.”
There was a message waiting for her from David when she returned to the hotel. He tracked her down through credit card transactions. She called him back. They talked for a long time. Such talks were getting more and more common. Buffy truly began to appreciate what an extraordinary man her husband was. She realized she had never given him enough credit. She promised to be careful.
She took a hot bath. She drank half a bottle of wine. She tried to ignore the fact that Angel was parked across the street watching the hotel’s lobby.
Dawn absolutely refused to see her. Buffy waited for a week, staying in some stinking little motel in the middle of Texas. Dawn finally showed up to pick up the money. She spit in Buffy’s face. She was sick, her body destroyed by years of drugs and alcohol. She had a persistent, rattling cough and sores on her hands.
Buffy stared through the school’s chain link fence, watching the tiny little girl stare off into space, far removed from the other children. Buffy left her name and address with the school counselor. The quiet young woman sadly assured Buffy they would give her a call.
It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when.
Buffy saved Dawn once. She couldn’t do it again, no matter how hard she tried.
Willow stood next to her, looking out over the bay. Buffy squinted into the setting sun, trying to remember what it felt like being with Willow and Xander, watching stupid movies, drinking too much coffee, dancing at the Bronze. She couldn’t remember.
“I was never angry with you, Buffy,” Willow said. “Just disappointed. Ashamed of myself too, maybe.”
“It wasn’t your fault I was broken,” Buffy said.
Willow turned and looked at her friend. The passage of time finally quieted her nervous chatter, imparted her with a solemn reserve. She didn’t try to make Buffy feel better. “Wasn’t it?” she asked. “You were done, Buffy, and I pulled you back into this world to finish living a life that didn’t need you.”
Buffy shrugged. “That’s what I thought for a long time too,” she said. “I felt like I was walking around in someone else’s skin, living someone else’s life. Now, I don’t know. I tore down Buffy Summers and built a replacement every bit as fake as she. And now it’s gone too and I’m left. Whoever I am.”
“You’re Buffy,” Willow offered.
“I am,” she said.
“How does David feel about this?” Willow asked.
“He's supportive,” Buffy said. “But who knows what will happen. I haven’t seen him in more than a month.”
Willow’s expression was serious. “What happened?”
“I had an affair,” Buffy admitted, pressing her lips together tightly, “with Angel.”
Willow’s eyes went wide for a moment before she regained her composure. “If past behavior is any indication, I don't imagine Angel took your marriage well.”
“He did at first,” Buffy said. “I think he thought it was a game. When he realized I wasn’t playing things fell apart in a big way. There were cops and fist fights and a lawsuit or two.”
“And how are you and Angel now?”
Buffy shrugged. “We haven’t spoken but ... he’s around. He followed me to England when I visited Giles' grave. He followed me to Texas. He’s here now.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I do not know.”
David had lost weight he couldn’t afford to lose, but somehow he looked stronger in spite of it. He stood up as Buffy entered the quite little coffee shop, enveloping her in a hug that lingered. Angel watched from across the street. They sat in the booth, holding hands. When she stood up to leave, he kissed her tenderly.
Angel met her before she'd made it a block. He stood in the middle of the sidewalk in the pouring rain glowering. "I guess this is the end, then," he said gruffly.
She looked at him. "I guess it is," she replied.
And it was the end.
For exactly eight hundred sixty-three days, ten hours, seventeen minutes and three seconds.
Buffy opened the door with a smile and handed him a party hat. When he didn't move, she grabbed his forearm and gently urged him inside the big, comfortable house. Trixie growled at him, but was quickly distracted, scampering off to investigate much more engaging prey. He could hear children screaming in delight, running. As they entered the great room, he could see through the sliding glass doors out to the backyard pool where warm southern California sun was shining down on a mob of prepubescent girls. Buffy smiled at him, urging him look more carefully. She pointed to a little girl, probably close to ten with blonde pigtails and a shirt emblazoned with "Birthday Girl."
"Joey," Buffy said, nodding to the little girl. "Um, we're fairly sure that Dawn was high at the time and in the middle of a Dawson's Creek rerun, but it could have been worse. She could have been watching Alf."
Angel stared at her dumbfounded. Two years without a word and this is what he gets? "Why didn't you tell me that you and David divorced?" he demanded.
"Because you didn’t ask," she replied, giving him duh face.
"But you knew how I felt. You knew - "
She pressed her finger over his lips, silencing him. "I knew I was lost," she said matter-of-factly. "And," she nodded towards the birthday girl, "there were a lot of other things going on in my life. I had to get myself settled first."
He sighed. "So you're settled?" he asked.
She smiled warmly. "I'm settled. I'm forty-three. I'm in the middle of a very nasty custody battle with my junkie sister over her nine-year-old daughter. I work at a crisis counseling center."
"Are you single?"
She nodded. "I'm single."
He nodded. "I'm two hundred and ninety-six years old. I have a grown son and three grandchildren. I'm currently unemployed but independently wealthy. I just moved to town."
"Are you single?"
"Not for long."
She grinned at him goofily. "You want some cake?"
He looked at her incredulously. "No," he replied. He grabbed the front of her shirt and pulled her flush against his body.
The party was a success. Joey got more presents than she could possibly ever use, but it still didn't make up for the fact that her mother had forgotten. She tried not to let her hurt show, but when Buffy tucked her in bed, she hugged her longer than usual.
Buffy turned off the light, but left the door cracked open as she went downstairs and finished cleaning the kitchen. Angel helped. They had coffee. They talked. David called to see if Dawn screwed up again and Buffy politely explained that she had company. She told him it was Angel. Angel smiled with far too much self-satisfaction.
Shortly before midnight, Buffy kicked him out under the guise of maintaining a respectable household. He groused. She was firm. He asked her out on a real date.
Buffy got a sitter. He showed up on her doorstep with flowers and a jewelry box. He said he figured they were done playing coy. She agreed. She still cried.
Buffy wore white. Joey wore pink. Angel put on the clothes Buffy left on the end of the bed. Connor found it endlessly amusing that Angel was trying to adopt a nine-year-old girl. He looked at his own fifteen-year-old daughter and smiled wickedly at his father.
"You have no idea what it's going to be like," he said smugly.
Angel blanched. He pulled Joey against his side and informed her she would not be dating ever. Buffy winked at her and they both giggled.
It was their sixth Christmas together when the phone rang unexpectedly. Joey knew before Buffy told her that Dawn was dead. The ceremony was somber and painful. Joey's behavior got worse. She was kicked out of school. Angel threatened one of her boyfriends with a baseball bat. Joey moved out of the house and Buffy was inconsolable for weeks.
It was an unseasonably cool Tuesday morning in late September when Angel collapsed. Doctors said he had a heart condition. Joey showed up at the hospital looking like she'd been on a week long bender. They couldn't pry her from Angel's bedside. When he went home, so did she. Buffy helped her move things back into her room. Joey returned to school. She threatened one of her ex-boyfriends with a baseball bat.
Angel healed and life eventually settled back into a rhythm. Buffy flatly refused to buy anymore cookie dough mint chip ice cream. Angel decided on an ingenious way to argue the case that he was perfectly healed. Joey caught them on the kitchen table. She screamed that her eyes were bleeding and she didn't look at either one of them for three days. She refused to eat at the table again.
They helped her move her things into the dorms and then they watched as she received her diploma. They met her serious boyfriend, Jack. Angel didn't like him. He glowered all through dinner. He glowered even worse through the wedding.
At the reception, Angel danced with Joey. He couldn't help the tear that slipped from the corner of his eye. Later, as he watched the new bride and groom together, he laced his fingers through his wife's and pulled her hand up for a kiss.
"Forever, Buffy," he said. "That's the whole point."
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