Shades of Shame
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It had been one of the longest nights of Angel's life. Not to mention the most tiring, smelly, and nauseating one. As soon as the sun had set, he had gone with Wesley to an abandoned meatpacking warehouse and killed a gaggle of demons that had settled there. It should have been simple, given the fact that the demons were only three feet in height and could be killed with a kick to the head. But there were several dozen of them, and they had known how to band together and fight. His entire body ached from the run in. He showered quickly, then stood under the hot water until it cooled. After he pulled on his boxer shorts, he moved into the kitchen and warmed himself a cup of blood, which he downed in just a few gulps. His bed had never looked more appealing, and as he made his way toward it, he let him mind wonder back to Buffy. It always came back to Buffy. Especially on the nights when he was soul weary, bone tired, and completely alone. Which was every night. Pulling his comforter back, he sat down on the edge of the bed and sighed, glancing at the clock. It was almost four in the morning. Buffy should be asleep. Probably was asleep. With Riley. Flipping off the bedside lamp, he lowered his head to the pillow, only to be startled by the phone ringing. Leaping to his feet, he stubbed his toe, swore loudly, and grabbed up the receiver. "Hello?" "Angel, it's Kate," replied a familiar voice. "Kate, is something wrong?" Angel sat back down, massaging his toe, and flipped the lamp on. If Kate was calling him, it was either the end of the world or she had something else to blame him for. She despised him. Hated him, to be more accurate. "I'm not exactly sure," Kate told him. "There's a girl down here with no identification and I think you may know who she is." "Why would I know her?" Angel rubbed his hand through his wet hair and pulled the cover over his legs, shivering slightly as the air conditioning kicked on. Whatever it was, he was tired, and it could wait. He had done his hero gig for the day. "You remember when you were harboring that girl named Faith and we brought you in?" she asked. Angel's brow furrowed, as he wondered if Faith had escaped prison. "Yes." "Well, this girl is that cute little blond who was here with you. The short one." Angel threw the cover off again and stood. "I'm on my way." "Don't you want to know what happened?" "Doesn't matter." <><><><><><> Kate cradled the phone and frowned, staring at the pile of paperwork on her desk. The pile of -unfinished- paperwork that couldn't be filed away until she took the unidentified girl's statement. The girl had been very uncooperative; refusing to make a statement, refusing treatment, verbally attacking the officers who had detained her. And she was injured. The only reason Kate recognized her at all was because of her voice when she had snapped at the guard. Getting up to pour herself a cup of coffee, she lifted the papers from her desk and went into the break room. One of the officers that had accompanied her to the club was eating a bagel in one corner and he nodded at her. "Detective Lockley." "Jameson," she replied, dropping money into the vending machine for her brew. "Any luck with that kid and her statement?" the man finished off his bagel and bought another one. Kate sipped her coffee and shook her head. "She's not talking. I can't, for the life of me, understand why she is refusing to make a statement." "Maybe she was involved." Kate considered that, then dug through the files in her hand. "According to another eyewitness, this girl fought the men tooth and nail and was shot. EMTs on the scene assessed her injuries, but she refused treatment, and the bullet only grazed her." Kate flipped the files closed. "Have you seen her? She's probably a hundred pounds at the most and she -fought- armed men." "I saw her. And I'm thinking that she wouldn't have fought them unless she knew they weren't going to hurt her," Jameson told her, smearing cream cheese on his bagel. "Did the paramedics give her something for pain?" "She refused everything," Kate leaned against the counter, trying to process the information and the evidence she had. If she remembered correctly, the girl had known that Angel was a vampire. She had said something like; 'You know what he is?' She had also seemed to know the other girl, Faith, when they were all there together. And the other girl was allegedly 'supernatural'. There was more going on that what appeared on the surface, of that, Kate was certain. Pouring her coffee down the drain, she sighed. "I'm going to go try again. Maybe she's had enough time to think about it." "Lots of luck," Jameson threw up a hand in a mock wave and sat down at one of the long tables, working on his third bagel. The girl was sitting in the hallway with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Two guards stood nearby, watching her and talking casually amongst themselves. Kate studied her for a while, taking note of the blood that matted the front of her hair, and the dark purplish bruise that ran along her forehead. She had seen that type of bruise before and figured it had been made from the butt of a rifle. Kate watched as the girl began to sob again and walked down the hallway. Picking up a box of tissue from one of the desks, she stopped beside her and knelt down. "Are you sure you don't want to see a doctor?" "I want to leave," the girl replied, staring straight ahead. "And I already told you that you are an eyewitness to a crime and I need some answers." Kate took out a tissue and held it up to her. "And I can't let you leave here until I'm sure that you're going to be okay. Is there someone you want me to call?" "No," Shaking her head, she took the tissue, frowning at the mangled pulp that was her knuckles. "What's your name?" There was no response, so Kate tried again. "You know, one could take your silence as a sign that you were involved in this." The injured girl blew her nose, causing it to start bleeding again, and cried harder. "Leave me the fuck alone! If you knew your ass from a hole in the ground, you would know that I wasn't involved! Look at me!" Kate shrugged her shoulders. "Why else would you be so uncooperative?" "Because I like cops about as much as I like getting robbed and shot at a night club." "Fine," Kate motioned for one of the guards who were standing nearby and then pointed back at the girl. "Don't let her out of your sight." "You can't keep me here!" The girl shouted suddenly, standing on shaky legs. The guard put himself between her and the blond officer, who had also stood, and she was tempted to shove him out of the way. "I'm very familiar with the penal code and you can't detain me unless you're charging me with something." Kate narrowed her eyes, then grinned at the thin girl. "Then you should also be aware that I can hold you for as long as I need due to your blood alcohol level. I can't let you go when you're intoxicated and have no means of transportation." "I have a car at the club if you'll just take me there!" "You want a DWI? You want a public intoxication ticket? Because I'll be on you so hard and fast if you step one foot out of this place without a designated driver that you won't know what hit you." Kate watched as the girl flopped back down on the bench and crossed her arms, fresh tears beginning to fall. "All I need from you is your cooperation," Kate said, kneeling down in front of her again. "You witnessed a crime tonight. You were held hostage, you were injured, you saw the assailants up close and personal, and I want answers. You're not leaving here until I get them. Am I making myself crystal clear?" "Leave her alone," a male voice spoke from behind them. Both women turned in that direction, and both said, "Angel." Angel brushed past the guard, meeting the girl halfway as she flew into his arms. Sobs wracked her body, and he rubbed his hands up and down her back, whispering soothingly in her ear. "Shh, it's okay." Kate watched the two of them, studying the way Angel brushed her hair back, tilted her chin, and trailed his thumb over the abrasions on her face. She had been right, they definitely knew each other. Very, -very- well. "Angel, perhaps you can persuade your friend to cooperate with us." "Whatever you need to know can wait. Look at her! I'm taking her to my place and you can come by there later on today," he told her. "Angel, her blood alcohol level was almost twice the limit earlier. She's been injured and she's- " "My responsibility starting right now. You want me to sign papers? I'll sign them," he lowered his voice. "If you want me to cause a scene, I'll do that too." Kate knew that tone, that deadly tone that she had only heard once from him ... the night his old building had exploded and she had tried to stop him from walking away. Throwing her hands in the air, her voice rose. "Fine, take her with you! But tell me her name first. At least give me a lead." "Buffy Summers," Angel replied, keeping a protective arm around Buffy. He turned, leading her toward the main door, then paused and looked over his shoulder. "Call before you stop by." Kate watched them leave and then glared at the guard who had been watching Buffy. "Don't just stand there. Get into the system and pull up every single scrap of information you can find on Buffy Summers." She had quite a bit of ground to cover. First, she needed to know why the girl had been so uncooperative. Second, where exactly did she know Angel from? And why were they so familiar with one another? <><><><><> Angel helped Buffy into his car, using the driver's side for entrance, since he had recently been rammed in the passenger side. She didn't scoot all the way over, and he didn't mind at all. He also didn't mind the fact that she leaned her head against his shoulder or took his hand when he had put the car in drive. He knew that the blood that covered her wasn't just hers. He could smell the different types; three that he could detect. He waited until they had cleared the parking deck before he spoke. "Buffy, what happened?" "I- I don't want- " she tensed slightly and lifted her head. "Okay. We won't." Squeezing her hand, he glanced her way, frowning when he saw fresh blood on her forehead. "Do you want to go to the hospital?" She shook her head and leaned against him again. "I just want to take a shower. And forget." The shower he could do - the forgetting - no matter what it was - would come much later. Neither spoke for the rest of the drive and when Angel pulled into his driveway, he had to nudge her to get her attention. She seemed oblivious to the fact that the car had stopped and he had turned off the ignition. "Buffy, we're here." "What?" she glanced at him, then nodded. "Oh, okay." He stepped from the car and helped her out, wondering if she was injured any place other than her face. She made her way past him and he noticed a small limp and he made a mental note to check her foot and leg. He unlocked his front door just in time to beat the sun, which was rising steadily behind them, and he ushered her inside, flipping on a light. With her back to him, he was able to see that her shirt was shredded and that the skin beneath it was scraped and raw. He took her elbow and led her into the bathroom. "You get a shower. I'll bring you something to wear." She didn't say a word, but glanced at the shower. Angel quickly left the room and went to his bedroom, digging through his drawers for something that would be comfortable for her. He decided on a plain white T-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts, and took them into the bathroom. Her bloody clothes were heaped in the floor and he lifted them gingerly after he had laid down the clean ones. "There's something for you to wear on the sink, Buffy." "All right," she mumbled quietly from behind the shower curtain. He took her things into his laundry room and examined them closely. There was a hole in one leg of her leather pants that looked like it had been made with a knife and it was covered with blood. That could be the reason she was limping. Her shirt was intact, except for the tears in the back, but the front was covered with blood. As were her boots. Frowning, he checked the sizes and wrote them down. He would call Cordelia in just a while and have her pick up something else. He heard her turn the shower off and hurried into the kitchen, where he pulled his first aid kit from one of the cabinets. After enough time had passed for her to dress, he knocked on the door. "Buffy?" "Just a second," she called. He knew from her voice that she was crying again and he cracked the door a little. "Are you dressed?" "Yes." Angel opened the door and stepped inside. Buffy was perched on the edge of the tub, her face buried in her hands, and he kneeled next to her. "You have to tell me what happened before I can help you." "It was awful," she cried. "Angel, I watched someone die tonight and I couldn't do a damned thing." "Tell me." Sniffling, Buffy grabbed a towel from the floor and blotted her face. "I went to a club on Sunset and I was trying to have a good time, right?" Angel nodded at her and she continued. "The next thing I know, there were men with guns standing on the dance floor. People went crazy, started running, started trampling each other, and I'd had a whole bunch to drink and wasn't thinking clearly. Thatís the only explanation I have. I just Ė I had so much on my mind and then- " Angel knew she had been drinking, he could smell it on her, but the lecture could wait. "Then what?" "One of them grabbed me and I hit him. So, he hit me with the gun," she pointed at her head. "And we scuffled a little. I knew I couldn't kill him, I mean, he's human. So, I was trying to knock him out or something. Another one joined in and then one of them shot at me." She pointed at her leg, which was still bleeding a little. "It just grazed me, Angel, but I swear to God I panicked! I'm the fucking Slayer and I panicked. I felt that bullet against my flesh and I was - I was terrified. Iíve faced demons, right? Youí d think that this would be easier, but it wasnít. Iíve never been so scared. I panicked!" Angel grabbed the towel that she had used to dry her face and pressed it over her leg. "It's okay that you panicked." "It's not! I should have been able to do something! Just look at the things Iíve faced and tell me how I couldn't do a thing about five men with guns?" "You were scared. And they were armed." Shaking her head, Buffy met his gaze. "I'm not allowed to get scared. Angel, people died because of me. I watched people die and couldn't move. I was just as helpless as every other girl in that room! And I donít know why." "Buffy, youíre a Slayer. You werenít in your league on this. It's not your fault." "It is my fault! I got them mad because I fought them and then this guy tried to come to my defense and they shot him! They shot him because he tried to help me!" She looked at the floor and trembled as she recalled the handsome young man who had started toward her after the bullet had caused her to lose her balance. He had asked her to dance when she first arrived, but she had declined and chosen to head toward the bar instead. "I tried to keep him talking, tried to keep him alive, but he died right there in my arms. Angel, he died asking for his mother. And they thought it was funny. They started waving the guns around, threatening everyone, and I just sat there, holding onto that dead man like he was a shield." Angel pulled her against him, closing his eyes at the horror of it all. When he had lived in Sunnydale, she would come to him with everything and he had held her exactly the same way. But never had he heard her sound so broken, so full of grief. "I know you want to blame yourself, Buffy, but these weren't demons and you can't prevent the evil that is in the heart of man. You would have gotten yourself shot and killed if you had tried again." "I should be shot and killed," she sobbed. "I don't want to be alive. I'm a failure. I'm-- " Angel was enraged, as quickly as she said the words; he felt his face change and he pushed her away from him, shaking her roughly. "Don't you ever say something like that again! Ever!" he yelled. Buffy's face went ghostly white and she stood, trying to rush past him. He caught her around the waist, holding her against him, her back molded against his chest. "Stop it!" he growled, as she struggled in his arms. After a few seconds, she stilled and he leaned his head against hers. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to shout at you. It's just- the thought of something happening to you makes me crazy." He felt her relax a little and lowered his voice. "Can I bandage the cut on your forehead now?" "Okay," Buffy replied in a small voice. She wasn't eager to have him prod the cut on her head, but the impact of his arms around her was enough to make her agree to a root canal surgery with a chain saw. She let him lead her into the kitchen, where he had neatly laid out his supplies, and she sat down at the bar on a stool. He moistened a cotton ball with antiseptic and dabbed at her forehead, frowning when she hissed in pain. Deciding to keep her talking, he asked, "So, what are you doing in town?" Giving him a little shrug, she pushed his hand away. "I needed a break and I think that's enough of whatever that is. It burns." "I haven't even put it on the worst part," he told her, brushing her hand aside, and continuing to press the medicine to her head. "A break, huh? Most people go to the beach for a break, not the crowded city." "I'm not most people." She clenched her teeth against the pain and focused on the pattern of the tile at the bar. She held her breath, hoping he would let the issue drop. "In other words, you found a club that didn't card you?" Wetting the cotton again, he moved toward a scrape on her cheek. Buffy glanced up at him. "You know me so well." "No, seems as if I recall my Buffy having a drinking experience that involved a large snake and she swore the stuff off," Pulling a tube of ointment from the kit, he put a liberal amount on the cuts, then began selecting bandages. "Want to tell me exactly what you're hoping to forget with the bottle?" "Nothing," she twisted the hem of the T-shirt she was wearing in her fingers, looked into his eyes, and added, "Everything." "Wanna narrow that down?" "Not really." "Fair enough." He taped the gauze in place on her forehead and grabbed one of his kitchen chairs, sitting down in front of her. He lifted her leg and put her foot on his thigh, staring at the bruised flesh around where the bullet had grazed her. The area around her knee was bad, and he feared that her kneecap could have been damaged. "You should see a doctor." "You'll do," she shrugged. "Unfortunately I've lived through much worse." Angel looked up at her again, his eyes flashing angrily. "You'd be wise to remember what I told you while ago." "Would you really care if I died?" "How in the hell can you ask me that?" He paused, bottle of antiseptic in hand, and glared at her. She held his gaze for several seconds, then looked away, biting her lower lip. "Never mind. Look, just do what you have to do to feel better about yourself and leave me alone." Instead of using the cotton, Angel splashed the liquid on her leg. Her eyes widened and he regretted it instantly. She bounced in her seat, fanning at her leg, and then she broke down, crying this time from the pain. He grabbed a paper towel and tried to dry it as best he could, but she pushed him away and did it herself. He stood to one side, watching as she dressed it herself and then she slammed the lid on the first aid kit and stepped away from him. "That was really fucking low, Angel," she snapped, her voice sounding strange from the tears. "Yes, it was. I'm sorry." He pushed the stool she had been sitting on under the bar and started toward her. She sidestepped and turned, walking into his living room, where she sat on one end of his couch. "I- can I have a blanket? I'm cold and I'm sleepy." "You can have my bed." "I don't want your bed," she crossed her arms. "And come to think of it, I don't want to be here at all. Why did you come to the police department?" Angel rubbed his fingers over his forehead, his own exhaustion threatening to overtake him. Her tone, her mannerisms, all of it suggested that a tantrum was on the horizon. "Buffy, you're not the only one who has had a rough night so why don't you just go lie down and we can talk later." "Don't tell me what to do." "I didn't te-" He shook his head and tossed his hands in the air. "No, I am not going to argue with you. Look, Buffy, I'm tired too and I dropped everything when Kate called me to come and get you. The least you can do is cut me some slack. I didn't do anything to you tonight." "No, you did it a while back, didn't you?" "It's not going to work. I'm not going to fight with you." "Yeah, because you're so much better at walking away. Turning the other cheek. Being the fucking martyr." She smiled when his nostrils flared slightly. "Why, I'm sure that you're just a couple of nice saves away from Sainthood." "You're probably right," Angel nodded agreeably. "Are you finished yet?" The fear from the night's events seemed to manifest in her fury and she shot to her feet. "Don't you dare try to pacify me that way." "Then don't you dare act like a child that needs pacifying," he fired back. "And don't you dare try to blame me for the fact that you got yourself into trouble tonight. You did this one on your own, Buffy, and there's no one to blame but yourself!" She was furious with herself for letting him have the satisfaction of making her cry again, so she blew past him, into his bedroom where she slammed the door. Climbing into his bed, she pulled the cover up and buried her face in his pillow. And that was a mistake, because the wonderful smell of him there was enough to make her lose the battle and let go. She sobbed. She sobbed for the young man who had tried to save her, for the rage that had driven the men to kill, and for herself -- and the vampire in the other room who she could never have. Her throat was hot, tired and aching from the tears, and her head was pounding, from the exhaustion, the stress. And no matter how she buried herself in the covers, her body felt frozen, rigid in the bed. Angel had slumped on the sofa when she left the room, but as he listened to her crying he stood slowly and made his way to the door of his bedroom. He didn't bother knocking, and entered instead, making his way toward the bed. Rational thought ceased to exist. The only thing he knew for certain was that Buffy was hurting and she needed to be held. Sliding under the cover next to her, he pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. "I didn't mean it. Please don't cry. You know I can't stand to make you cry." "It hurts. God, it hurts so much. Make it stop," she clung to him, her face against his neck, her hot tears dripping against his skin. "Please, Buffy, please don't." Angel rolled to face her, cupping her face in his palm. He trailed his thumb under her eye, catching her tears, then, without a second thought he lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her gently. He felt her lips tremble under his, felt her tense, and then she sighed and threaded her fingers through his hair. The first touch of her tongue against his sent a charge of electricity through his body. It felt so familiar, so right, but at the same time, it felt like the first kiss all over again. Timid, unsure, tense, and full of emotion. He slid his hand down to her hip, where he massaged, then dared to slip around, cupping her backside. Even as he kneaded the sculpted flesh of her bottom, he told himself it was wrong. He told himself that she was aching inside and needed him to be a friend, not a lover, but when she ran her own hand down, working the fastening on his pants, he gave in. Telling her that there was no curse was the last thing on his mind. He would show her that there was no curse. Buffy sat up slightly, pulling the T-shirt over her head. The only light in the room came from the open door, but she could see him perfectly. He watched through hooded eyes as she exposed herself to his gaze, then cupped her breasts, testing their weight. Part of her knew she should stop him. Granted, the engagement ring Riley had given her had been taken by the gunmen, and there were no outward signs that she belonged to someone else, but she paused briefly, rethinking what they were doing. Angel caught her hesitation and sat up as well, pulling her astride him. "We can, Buffy. I can't really explain it, but the curse is gone. I can make love to you." She moaned when he nuzzled against her neck, sucking at the tender flesh at the base of her throat. The thoughts of Riley left her mind as quickly as they had entered and she hooked her fingers under the hem of his shirt, sliding it up over his head. Flesh to flesh, she pressed her chest against his, staring into his eyes. She wanted to rage, to ask him how the curse had been lifted, but instead she caught his mouth with hers and poured herself into the kiss. The passion that had been dormant for so long erupted and she began to cry again. "Angel, make love to me," she whispered, her mouth against his ear. He lifted her from his lap, laying her back on the bed. Words were unneeded after her soft spoken plea, and he set about complying. Gripping the boxer shorts she had on, he slid them effortlessly over her hips and feet. Kneeling next to her on the bed, he skimmed his fingertips over her skin, delighting in the goosebumps that dotted her flesh. Smiling down at her, he leaned forward, brushing his mouth over her pebbled nipple. Before she could arch against him, he pulled away, causing her to give a frustrated cry, and moved lower to her stomach. Buffy thought she would die if he ever stopped touching her. His fingers, his mouth, the brush of the coarse hair of his leg against hers, all of it set her bearings on edge. She felt him dip his tongue into her belly button, felt him slide his hand between her legs, parting her, and then his mouth brushed over the lips of her sex and she whispered his name. Angel closed his eyes, concentrating on the sound and taste of her. Every soft stroke against her caused her to shudder, and as he slid one of his fingers into her, he marveled at how tight and slick she was with need. Sucking at her swollen nubbin, he pulled it between his teeth, grazing it lightly, and she shouted as her orgasm began. He smiled, feeling her walls grasping at his finger, and continued to lap at her until her breathing slowed. Only then did he pull away and shed his own pants. It startled her when he settled between her legs suddenly. She had her eyes closed, riding out what had to be the most powerful orgasm of her short life, and when she felt his hardness brush against her, her eyes popped open. He propped himself over her, waiting for her to speak, to refuse. Her green eyes were pinned to his brown, and she licked her lips, drawing his gaze to her mouth briefly. Instead of nodding at him, she reached between their bodies, gripping his thick, hard shaft, and she led him to her entrance. She gasped as he stretched her, filling her completely, and her eyes welled again. Angel lowered his head, kissing away the tears that leaked from the corners of her eyes. When he was completely sheathed in her heat, he grew perfectly still, waiting for her to meet his eyes again. She did. He gave her a small smile, brushing his thumb over her cheek, and whispered, "I have never stopped loving you." She returned the smile, and traced the contours of his face. "I never stopped loving you. Angel, I want-" "Hush," he whispered. "We can talk about what we want later. It's time for what we need." Pulling back slightly, he slid into her again, slowly, inch by inch, taking his time. He watched the varied emotions play across her features, repeating his actions when she sighed or moaned. They were joined at the body, at the soul, at the heart, and as he quickened his pace, he knew that he would fight to keep her. Whatever had driven her to Los Angeles, whatever memories haunted them, whatever she had done in his absence, none of it mattered. All that mattered was the moment. And the hours he would spend making love to her. <><><><><> Buffy awoke first, the sound of someone banging on the door jarring her from slumber. Sitting up, she shook Angel, who was lying on his back with his arm tossed over his head. He groaned and rolled over, hugging his pillow to his chest. She didn't have the heart to try again. Instead, she slipped on his boxers and the T-shirt and padded out of the room. The knocking started again and she picked up her pace, yanking the door open. Kate Lockley stood on the other side; her fist still poised in the air. "God!" Buffy growled. "Are you trying to wake the dead?" "You could say that," Kate told her, stepping past her without and invitation. "Where's Angel?" "He's asleep," Buffy replied, shutting the door behind them. "And I distinctly remember him telling you to call before you came." "I did call." Kate turned to glare at her, taking in her attire and the state of her mussed hair. "No one answered." Buffy snapped her fingers. "That's right! We were expecting it and cut the ringer off." "Very funny." Holding up a large stack of papers, Kate tapped the cover. "Do you know what this is?" Shrugging, Buffy made her way to the sofa and sat down. "Probably my record." "Bingo." Kate dropped the papers on the coffee table and put her hands on her hips. "Colorful past. I guess I see now why you were so reluctant to speak to me. Arson, fights, you were questioned in a couple of homicides, resisting arrest, and you were the lead suspect in a murder in Sunnydale, are you seeing a pattern here?" "Yeah, cops like to waste their time and mine instead of looking for the real bad guys. What the hell do you want?" "All I need from you is a statement." "Fine, here's my statement. I don't remember anything. I had too much to drink and it all happened in a blur." Kate put her hands on her hips and shook her head. "Why did you attempt to fight the gunmen?" "Again, I was drunk. I was ten feet tall and bullet proof," Buffy pointed at her leg. "Only not entirely." "How did you get into the club? You're not even twenty years old." "I'm pretty damn cute. The doorman liked me." "Where is your ID?" "The gunmen who got away took several purses and wallets, mine was one of them. Along with my jewelry." Kate gave a sharp laugh. "I thought you didn't recall everything." Buffy didn't falter. "I have selective memory. Sue me." Kate took a small notepad from her purse. "What items were are you missing?" "Why do you want to know?" With an exasperated sigh, Kate flipped the pad open. "I need to know so that if the perps try to hock the personal belongings someplace, we can nab them." "A silver chain with a crucifix on it. A gold watch with a small diamond at twelve and an inscription that says, 'Love, Daddy', and a diamond engagement ring. Heart shaped with a gold band that has the name Finn on the inside of the band." Buffy watched her jot down everything and cleared her throat. "Are we finished here?" Kate flipped the tablet closed and shoved it into her pocket. "Sure, we're finished, but I want you to know that I never leave a stone unturned. I will find out if there is something you're hiding." Lowering her voice, Kate leaned in closer. "And if you are friends with vampires, then I would say that there is definitely something more going on than meets the eye." Buffy cocked an eyebrow. "No shit, Sherlock. Now be a good watchdog and sniff it all out." Kate turned on her heel and stomped out the door. Buffy moved toward the window, watching as the woman got into an unmarked police car and drove away. Running her hands through her hair, she turned, freezing when she saw Angel leaning against the doorway of his bedroom. "Angel." "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked calmly, though he was anything but. "Tell you wh-" She paused when she realized what he must have heard. "Oh." "You're engaged," he stated without inflection. "To Riley Finn?" Swallowing hard, she took a few steps forward. "Angel, I can-" "No," Angel held up his hand. "When were you going to tell me?" "I don't know." His eyes widened. "You don't know? What, you were going to wait a day? A week? A month? Were you gonna rush home today and make some excuse to come back here? Or would you have made an excuse to go back there to him? Were you planning to lie to me or to him?" Buffy took a few more steps toward him. "I just- I needed time to work it all out in my head. I mean, I just found out last night that you're not cursed. And speaking of- when were you planning on telling me that? I'm not the only one who hid something." "Don't you turn this around on me!" Angel shouted, his temper finally flaring. "I have had no one since you! I have wanted no one since you!" "And you're going to fault me for trying to have the normal life you demanded I find?" she yelled back at him. "You're so hypocritical. You want me to find someone else and then you get mad at me for doing it. You want me to go on with my life, then you throw it back in my face." "Well, I'm going to make it really simple for you, Buffy." Grabbing the cordless phone off the wall, he held it out to her. "You're either going to call him and tell him about me or you're going to call a cab." "Don't do this," she begged, stepping away from the phone. "Don't put me on the spot like this and expect me to just - Angel, I have something with Riley. I can't just call him on the phone and drop something like this on him. He loves me and I -" "You love him." Angel snapped, shoving the phone in her hand. He wanted to get her as far away from him as he could. Every time he looked at her, he was imagining her in Riley Finn's arms, making love to him, crying out his name. If he had to be closed up in his apartment with her much longer, it would drive him crazy. "Then go to him." "He deserves better than a phone call." Buffy stared at the phone for a second, then looked back up at Angel. "You're not even telling me what you're offering me. I mean, are you coming back to Sunnydale? Are you interested in a relationship again? What?" "I thought I was," he said, glaring down at her. "What am I offering you? The fact that you had to ask tells me that you don't deserve it. And you never really did." "Angel, I-" "Call a cab, Buffy. Call Giles, call Willow, call your beloved Riley, just get out of my sight." <><><><><> Buffy called a cab and was taken to her car. She had salvaged her leather pants and shoes from Angel's trash, and had tied his T-shirt in a knot at the front. Once she arrived at her car, she pulled the spare key from the magnetic holder under the front tire frame, and let herself in. She headed straight for her father's house, where she entered through a window, having lost her keys in her purse. She took money from his "stash" in the safe, left him a note, and called Giles' place. He answered on the second ring. "Hello?" "Giles, it's me." "Buffy! It's her!" he called to someone else in the room. "Where are you? We've been worried sick about you." "I'm sorry. I - I just needed to get away. I'm at my dad's house." "We called your cell phone! Why didn't you answer?" he practically shouted. "Giles, I was robbed last night, shot in the leg, and everything I have is gone." "You were shot?" he exclaimed. Buffy could hear her friend's voices echoing what he said, each one bombarding him with another question. "Tell them I'm fine. It just nicked me, but they took everything." "Hold on, Buffy, Riley wants to speak to you." Buffy took a deep breath and held it, waiting for him to get on the phone. She heard him take it and then there was silence on the other end, which probably meant he had taken it into the bathroom for privacy. Finally, he spoke. "Buffy?" "Hey." "Oh, god, it's so good to hear your voice. Are you okay?" "I'm fine," she said softly, imagining him leaning against the sink struggling for words. "Giles said you got shot. How bad is it?" "Already healing," she kept her voice guarded, her tone clipped. "Baby, I'm sorry about the fight we had. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." He paused, as if waiting for her to instantly forgive him. When there was no response, he tried again. "Okay, I'll try a different approach. You were right and I wrong. I'm the biggest ass alive and if you'll forgive me, I promise that I'll spend the rest of my life giving you backrubs, breakfast in bed, and control of the television." She chuckled involuntarily. "What about football season?" "What's that?" he smiled. "I really am sorry, baby." "I'm sorry too." She felt a lump in her throat and swallowed against it. "I shouldn't have left the way I did. It was childish to just leave and make all of you worry." "No, it's my fault, sweetheart. I made you feel like you had no choice. I was just really upset. And believe me, I've learned my lesson." "It's forgotten," Buffy figured that she was the last person to hold a grudge, especially after what she had done. "I love you, Buffy. I love you so much that sometimes it makes me insane and I say things I don't mean." Her mind flitted back to Angel. "I know exactly what you mean." "Will you come home now? Please?" "Yeah, I'm coming home." <><><><><> Buffy parked at Riley's apartment, angling her Mustang, a gift from her mother, behind his SUV. She had taken great pains with her appearance at her dad's house, showering and changing into an old halter top and shorts that she had left behind the summer after the Master had killed her. She was a little shocked to find that they fit her loosely, but they did in a pinch. She had stopped at a dumpsite, tossing her boots and jeans. When she reached for Angel's T-shirt, she found herself unable to throw it away, and tucked it under her seat. Presently, she sat in her car, ignition running, trying to decide what she was going to do. Giving herself one last look in her rearview mirror, she decided that she didn't show any signs of her activity the night before and she cut the ignition and stepped out. Her leg ached from being in one position for the two hour drive, and she stumbled on the stairs, earning a glance from Riley's neighbor, who was sitting on his porch. She nodded at him and knocked lightly on the door, then tried the handle. It was unlocked and she stepped inside. "Riley?" There was no reply, so she dropped her key on the table beside the door, kicked off her shoes, and made her way into the living room. He was lying on the sofa, one hand under his cheek and the other between his knees, which were drawn upward, toward his chest. His hair was sticking up at odd angles, causing him to look much younger than his twenty- three years. Kneeling beside him, she bit her thumbnail, waiting for the inevitable guilt to hit her like a sledgehammer. It came when he called her name and rolled onto his back, his face contorting with pain. Like a ton of bricks, the reality of what she had done the previous night landed square on her back, and a sob caught in the back of her throat. Burying her face in her hands, she tried to get to her feet and go into the bathroom, but Riley apparently heard her, because he sat up quickly and pulled her into his arms. "Buffy, what's wrong?" he asked, pulling her into his lap. Immediately he saw the nasty bruise on her leg and turned, putting her on the sofa so he could look at it. "Oh god, Buffy! Did you go to the hospital?" "No," she rubbed at her face, completely avoiding his gaze. "Let me grab my shoes and I'll take you," he told her. She caught his arm as he started to stand and shook her head. "No, it's okay. You know how I heal." Riley got a really good look at her face and covered his mouth, then sat back down. "What happened? Buffy, your face-" "Connected with the butt of a rifle," she replied, trying to collect herself. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably and her teeth began to rattle. All at once she wanted to vomit, sob, run, scream, confess, beg him to kill her, and most of all, say she was sorry. Instead, she let him pull her against him. "You're shaking. Tell me what happened last night," Grabbing the throw from the back of his sofa, he wrapped it around her shoulders. In between her choked sobs, she was able to tell him what had happened at the club. She told him about the young man who had died to protect her, about the fear that had paralyzed her, and about the gunmen robbing her. Almost as an afterthought, she held up her left hand and sobbed harder. "They took my ring, Riley." Riley grabbed her hand and kissed her finger. "I had it insured, sweetie. I'll get you another one." "It won't be the same. It won't be special." "It will be because it's yours." Riley had never seen her so upset. Sure, he had seen her cry, had been the cause of her crying a time or two, but she looked so pale and wan and positively broken. "Buffy, you know that what happened at the club wasn't your fault, don't you?" She was desperate to tell him that it wasn't what happened at the club that was ripping her apart inside. She wanted to say that while the guilt of watching the young man die in her defense should have been gut wrenching -- it was overshadowed by the guilt of what she had done with Angel. Instead, she leaned her head against his shoulder and said, "I think it will take a really long time before I believe that." "I'll believe it enough for the both of us." Riley kissed the top of her head and fluffed one of the throw pillows on the sofa. "Lie down. I'll order a pizza or something and you rest a while." Buffy complied, lying back on the sofa. She had regained enough of her composure to control her hysteria, and when he made a move to stand, she sat up and hugged him. "I love you. I never want to fight with you again, Riley. I never- I never want to go back to Los Angeles." Riley held on to her, rubbing her back. "It's over now, Buffy. The fight, what happened in LA, all of it. I'm here, you're here, and I love you. We'll get you a new ring, and we'll pretend that we never said any angry words to one another. And we'll be okay." "We'll be okay," she clung to his shirt, pulling the fabric into her fists. "We will. We'll be okay." <><><><> Angel stormed into his office building earlier than usual. Cordelia immediately began mumbling about bills and fumbled on her desk for a stack of envelopes. When she held them out to him, she got a good look at his face, and quickly dropped them back on her desk. Angel stormed past her desk, through Wesley's 'library' and into his own office, slamming the door behind him. Stalking toward his desk, his threw his duster onto the sofa in one corner and slumped in his chair, folding his hands on his lap. On his desk, in an ornate silver frame, was a photograph of Buffy that Willow had mailed him after he had e-mailed her and told her that his things had been damaged in the fire. In it, Buffy was smiling brightly, the sun streaming in from behind her. It was a close-up, her hair framing her face in soft gold curls. He snatched it up, jumped to his feet, and drew his arm back to throw it, but the second he did, her voice came back to haunt him. "I never stopped loving you." Dropping his arm, he left the photo rest against his leg for several seconds, before he finally lifted it and stared at her again. Tracing his thumb over the curve of her jaw, he replayed the fight they'd had in his mind, reliving every angry word and the devastated look on her face. Yes, she had been wrong to keep the truth from him, but he had also been wrong to give her an ultimatum. It could be argued that he had taken advantage of her in her emotional state, and he couldn't leave it the way it was. He picked up the phone, thinking he'd call and apologize, then thought better of it. If he was going to fight for her, then he'd be better off fighting for her in person. After he apologized, he would tell her exactly what he wanted and beg her to let him back into her life. He noted the time, grabbed his coat, and headed for the door. Kate Lockley stood in front of Cordelia's desk, demanding to speak with Angel. When he entered the office and started past her, not even acknowledging her, she caught his arm. "Angel, where's Buffy?" Angel pulled his arm from her grasp and slipped his coat over his shoulders. "She's not here." "I gathered," Kate replied, taking note of the vampire's disheveled appearance. "Where is she?" "Sunnydale," he told her, then turned his attention toward Cordelia. "I've got stuff to take care of, Cordelia. I may be gone for a couple of days. If you need me, call the cell phone." Cordelia nodded her head simply. "Tell the gang I said hello." Angel nodded and headed toward the door. Kate threw Cordy an exasperated look and followed him. "Angel, where are you going?" "You know where I'm going." "Sunnydale? To Buffy?" "Bingo." "Who is she? What is she to you?" Angel stopped walking and turned to face her, digging his car keys from his pocket. "She's everything to me." Kate raised an eyebrow. "You're in love with her? You're in love with a mortal teenage girl?" "You could never hope to understand so don't bother asking." Kate dug in her own pocket and pulled out a small plastic bag. She held it up, shaking it slightly to clear out the wrinkles. "And she's in love with someone else." Angel glared at the ring in the small bag. The diamond sparkled in the light from the streetlamps and he felt his throat tighten. "She's in love with me." Chuckling softly, Kate held out the bag to him. "Right. Then you should be the one to give her back her ring." When the vampire simply stared at the bag, Kate put on her best sympathetic face and clutched her chest. "Oh, that's right! You can't get married. You can't do a lot of things for her, right? That's why she has another guy on the side." Angel spun, heading toward his car. Kate followed him several feet and he turned to face her again. "What?" Kate tossed him the ring. "You give it to her. Let her know that we caught the gunman that got away and it was in his pocket." She smiled then, beaming brightly. "And tell her I said congratulations on her upcoming wedding. I'm sure she'll be a lovely bride." He watched her walk away, her laughter carrying back to him on the breeze. Clenching the ring in his palm, he yanked his car door open and pointed it in the direction of Sunnydale, not once looking back at the city. <><><> Riley watched as Buffy packed a few weapons into her bag. Since she had gotten back from Los Angeles, she hadn't said more than a handful of words to him. When she had showered a while earlier, he had heard her sobbing and rushed into the bathroom, but she had pleaded with him to leave her alone, and he had been forced to comply. Now she was going on patrol, and had made it clear that she wasn't interested in his company. She wanted time to think, she had told him. He wanted to pull her into his arms, beg her to tell him what was going on in her head, but he had known her long enough to know when she needed space. He sat on the edge of the bed, watching her pull items from the trunk she kept in his closet. She rifled inside, lifting this and that, dropping it, lifting it again, and then putting it into the bag. He knew she was distracted, and he knew that there was something more on her mind than just what had happened at the club in LA. She wouldn't meet his gaze, shied away from his touches, and answered most of his questions with a nod or a shake of her head. When she finally stood and threw her bag over her shoulder, he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into his lap. "Buffy, talk to me, please?" Buffy tensed instantly, closing her eyes when he leaned his head against her shoulder and hugged her. The feel of his hands on her reminded her of Angel's hands and she shrugged away from him, pulling out of his embrace. "I have to go." "You don't have to do anything," he told her, rising to his feet and trailing her into the living room. "Don't go. Look, we can just hang out here and talk if you want to. Talk about what happened in LA." His words sliced her to the core and she accidentally dropped her bag, quickly fumbling to pick it back up before the contents spilled. "We've already talked, Riley. And I need to patrol. I have to." "I just don't think that you're in any frame of mind to..." "Don't tell me what to do!" she snapped suddenly, yanking the front door open. "Don't crowd me! Don't talk to me like I'm five, and don't follow me!" He watched her storm out into the darkness, slamming the door behind her, and slumped into one of the overstuffed chairs in his living room. Face in his hands, he did the one thing he had perfected in his months as her lover. He waited for her to return, hoping with every passing second that the night would leave her unscathed. <><><><><> Buffy made it to the cemetery before she collapsed in a fit of tears. Sprawling haphazardly on a soft incline, she put her back to a headstone and cried. How had twenty-four hours changed her life so dramatically? Not only had someone died for her, something that she would never forget, she had found out that Angel could make love to her - and had let him. Here she was, supposedly engaged to a wonderful man, and she had spent the night with her ex, a vampire no less, and couldn't get him out of her head. It wasn't right. She couldn't be around Riley, couldn't look him in the eye, because she was so convinced that she was wearing her longing on her face like a gigantic red ĎAí. One look at her, and he would see the truth. She wanted Angel. She wanted to get back into her car, drive the two hours, and fling herself into his arms and stay there. Forever. It made her the worst kind of fool. On the one hand, she had a man who everyone approved of. A man who walked with her in the sun, who asked her mother if he could marry her daughter before he even asked Buffy, and he was a man that the entire gang accepted as one of their own. There were no bad memories associated with him. Only good. Only laughter and fun. He loved her completely, forgiving her for her past, longing for a future, and accepting who she was without pause. And on the other hand, there was Angel. His very being was the one thing she was destined to kill - and her love for him consumed her - body, soul, and mind. He couldn't take her into the light, but his arms were the brightest place she had ever been. But the gang didn't approve. Giles looked at Angel and saw the creature that killed the woman he loved. Xander hated him from the start. And Willow, sweet Willow, had confessed not long ago that she got a major wiggins when she thought about Angel and Buffy - together in that sense - and always had. If she left Riley and went to Angel, it would drive a wedge between her and her friends. Especially her mother, who adored Riley Finn like he was her own son. Joyce never failed to tell her how proud she was of Buffy's decision to move forward with her relationship with Riley. She doted on them both, bragging to her customers that her daughter was marrying a bright young man with a wonderful future. And what was Angel's future? How did she fit in? Did she ever fit in at all? She sobbed, loud hitching sobs that tore through the silence of the night like a bullet. And he heard. One minute she was sobbing into her palms, and the next minute she was pulled against his chest and he was rocking her back and forth. At first she thought it was Riley, and wanted to scream at him for following her, but then he said her name and she relaxed. "Angel-" "I'm right here," he told her, smoothing her hair away from her face so he could see her. "Don't cry." And then she was in his lap; her legs around his waist, her mouth over his and his hands were on her backside. She pushed his duster over his shoulders and yanked his shirt off, lowering her head to his neck, where she gently sucked at his skin. He responded in kind, not bothering to speak, but quickly divesting her of her clothing. When she was nude, begging him to touch her, he laid her back on his duster and lowered his mouth to hers again. Buffy knew it was wrong. This time, she was in Sunnydale, in the open, in perfect view of anyone who dared stop to look, and she - didn't - care. She felt his long, skilled fingers begin to massage her core and she moaned his name, urging her hips upward, aiding in his exploration. When he slid a finger into her, she pushed down against it, burying her face against his neck. She didn't want foreplay, she wanted him inside her. "Now, Angel. Please, now." He nodded and unbuttoned his pants, pushing them down far enough to free himself, and then he moved between her legs. She wasted no time, grabbing him and leading him to her entrance. With a small smile on his lips, he buried himself in her familiar heat, calling out her name with a hoarse cry. It hadn't been his intention to take her this way; in the cemetery, on the ground, with her crying again, but he couldn't have denied her even if he wanted to. Rocking against her, he increased his pace, frenzied, starving for release. His mouth never left hers, his tongue never ceased the insistent rubbing against hers, and his free hand moved between them, massaging her roughly. She sobbed against his mouth when she came. Her legs tightened around him and she broke the kiss, turning her head to one side. He took that as an invitation and sank his fangs into her neck, his own orgasm releasing his demon. His tongue felt the scar he had left all those months before, and he came even harder, filling her with his seed. Her blood tasted sweet, rich with desire and passion, and he took one last swallow before he jerked away and laid his head on her shoulder. She shifted under him and he moved off of her, watching as she reached for her shirt. When she pulled it over her head, he watched her massage the bite marks on her neck and quickly pulled his pants back up. Sitting up beside her, Angel pushed her hair over her shoulder so he could see the damage. "I'm sorry. Did I hurt you?" "What are you doing here?" she asked him finally, staring up at his face - his perfect face. "I couldn't just- Buffy, we handled it all wrong. No, -I- handled it all wrong and I'm sorry." He pulled her against him again. "Why were you crying?" She let him hug her, then moved away, grabbing her pants, which she pulled on quickly. "I can't even look at him. Angel, I - I feel so bad for what happened with us - again now- and-" she met his gaze. "And for wanting you so much. He loves me and -" "And I love you, Buffy. I love you so much," he said it fast, gripping her upper arms in an attempt to make her understand. "I want to be with you. I need to be with you. I should have said all of this today. I should have- " Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks and she shook her head. "Angel, we have to think about other people. We have to think about how us being together would affect other people." "I don't care how much it hurts Riley, Buffy." "I do," she whispered. "But it's not just about him." His jaw tightened. "There's someone -else-? Who is he?" "No! God, what do you think I am?" she pushed away and stood. "My mother loves him. The gang accepts him and he- Angel, he fits in, you know?" "And I don't," he nodded his head. "I never did and it never stopped you before." "I wasn't engaged before. There was no one else before. I had never had a normal relationship before. I didn't know what it was like, what I had been missing." She ran her hands through her hair and then over the bite mark again, which she rubbed. You can't fault me for finding what I had been missing. Or for being reluctant to let it go." "I can be with you now!" he shouted at her, drawing up to his full height. "And time has gone by! Things have changed! You can't just decide to leave me, decide to come back. You can't keep upsetting my life that way!" "Do you love me?" "You know that I do!" "Then tell me what's changed so much? Damn it, Buffy! Don't you realize what we can have? You're not giving anything up that I can't give you!" Still massaging her neck, she looked up at him. "Afternoon walks, a wedding, kids, a family, growing old together, that type of thing." Moving toward her, he lifted her and sat her on one of the headstones, then placed his palms on either side of her. Leaning low, he looked her dead in the eye. "A few months ago, I found out what my reward would be when I make amends for my wrong doings. I am going to be human again, Buffy. I'll be just as human as you. Just as human as Riley Finn, and the only difference will be that I will love you in a way that he will never hope to fathom." Her eyes had grown huge, round as saucers. "Human? When?" He lifted one hand and trailed it over her cheek. "We don't know. Whenever who's in charge thinks I've atoned for my sins." "It could happen anytime?" "Today, tomorrow, next year - in five years," Angel lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her softly. She pushed him away. "In twenty years? In thirty? When I'm too old to be with you? What?" "We don't know that." Slipping off the edge of the headstone, she nodded at him. "You're right. We don't know that. We don't know anything. The -only- thing that has changed for us is the fact that you can sleep with me and not lose your soul. So that just proves that the reason you left me to begin with wasn't so I could have a normal -fucking- life, it was because you couldn't handle the temptation!" "You're right! I couldn't handle it! I was always so close to throwing you down, just like I did here, and making love to you! Is that what you want me to tell you? I was weak! I knew it was just a matter of time before I'd let the demon come out again!" "You just did!" She exposed her neck to him again, pointing at the bite marks. "How the hell am I supposed to explain this?" "Tell him the truth! Tell him you begged me to make love to you! Tell him you lied to him, you lied to me, and you lied to yourself when you told him you loved him." "I can't!" she yelled, grabbing her bag off the ground. "You can!" he replied evenly, gripping her arm. "If you walk away from me, Buffy, and go back to him, that's it. I'll get into my car, go home, and you won't see me again." "I need time! Why do you have to give me ultimatums? Just give me time!" Shaking his head, Angel let her arm go and dug through his pocket, yanking out the ring that Kate had given him. Buffy's engagement ring. He ripped the bag open and held it up, letting her see what it was. "Kate found your ring." Stalking toward her, he slapped it into the palm of her hand. "Decide right now. Either put it on your finger or throw it over your shoulder." Buffy stared at the glistening diamond in her hand, remembering the night that Riley had proposed. His hands had been shaking so hard that he couldn't open the box. She had opened it for him, gasping at the gorgeous stone. She had looked up at him through tear filled eyes and whispered, "Is this what I think it is?" His voice had broken as he took the ring from the tiny box and bent to one knee. "It is, Buffy. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend every second of the rest of my life making you as happy as you make me." Blinking back her tears, Buffy looked up at Angel. "I need time," she repeated softly. "If you can't give me that then I don't want to be with you. You're asking me to make a choice that will alter my life forever. As much as I want to be with you, I can't help but remember the promises that you made to me and broke. I can't help but think about the fact that you've had your curse revised for a while and didn't tell me. I can't help but think of the fact that suddenly you want to be with me - just because you can sleep with me," she paused. "And I can't deny the fact that I still love you just as much as I always have. But things are different, Angel. I'm not as selfish as I once was, and there are other people involved now. I need a few days to make sure this is the right thing." Holding the ring between her finger and thumb, she held it up to him. "You hold onto it. I'll come to Los Angeles when I've decided." Reluctantly, he took the ring from her and clenched it in his fist. "You expect me to just accept this? You expect me to just sit in Los Angeles and wait for you to decide if I'm good enough?" "I expect you to finally give me a choice. You never have, Angel, and I forgave you for that. But I have to make a choice now and you can't make it for me." She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the mouth. "I do love you. I always have and I always will." Angel watched her go, ignoring the pain in his palm from the diamond cutting into his flesh. When she rounded the corner of the mausoleum, he sat down and leaned his head against the headstone she had been leaning against when he found her. And just like she had done then, he cried. <><><><> Buffy went to her mother's that night and fell into a fitful sleep. She awoke early, the phone blaring in her ear and rolled to get it. "Buffy, it's me." "Riley," she mumbled, sitting up in the bed and checking the clock. "It's so early." "I just got a call from someone named Kate Lockley," Riley said, his voice loud and angry. "I'm on my cell phone. I'm at your mother's front door. Come let me in." OHGODOHGODOHGOD! Buffy hung the phone up, grabbed her robe and headed down the stairs. She could see him watching her through one of the frosted panes in the front door and she paused on the bottom step, trying to decide it he knew what she was afraid he knew. The tight angle of his jaw confirmed that he was indeed bursting to confront her with something, and she reluctantly walked forward, opening the door. Riley blew in and took the stairs two at a time, going into her bedroom. She followed behind him, watching as he looked under her bed, in her closet and then out the window. "Riley, what are you doing?" "Is he here?" He growled, moving past her and going into the bathroom, where he checked behind the shower curtain. "Who?" Buffy asked, but she already knew the answer. He whirled around and pointed a finger at her face. "Don't you play that game with me. Officer Lockley called me and asked me if Angel had returned your ring. She told me about you spending the night with him and about his undying devotion to you and about him coming to town last night. Which could explain why you chose not to come back to my place." Buffy looked at the floor, biting her bottom lip. Riley stalked toward her and tilted her chin roughly. "No! You look at me, Buffy! You look me in the eye and you tell me what happened between the two of you!" She began to cry and his eyes widened. He pushed her hair back, staring at the puncture wounds on her neck. "Oh god. You fucked him!?" It felt like his words hit her like a sledgehammer and she took several steps away. "Riley, it just happened. I don't know why or-" "Rain just happens! Floods just happen! Screwing the vampire who screwed you and your friends over doesn't just happen!" Shoving her out of the way, he stormed back down the stairs. "I should have known! I should have seen it in the way you acted!" Buffy chased after him. "Riley, please! Just let me explain!" He stopped at the front door and looked back at her. "Actually, Buffy, I think the fact that you don't have your ring on explains everything." He slammed out the front door and she slumped on the stairs. She was too mentally exhausted to cry. She had cried enough in the past two days to last her an entire lifetime, and then some. She heard someone coming down the stairs behind her and glanced up at her mother. "Mom, I don't want to talk about it." "You slept with Angel?" Joyce sat down on the steps beside her. "Don't judge me, Mom. For once, don't tell me I'm wrong, or bad, or stupid. Just- don't." Buffy leaned her head against the wall and stared at the front door. "Will he go evil again?" "No." "How can you be so sure?" "Because he told me." "And that's supposed to mean something to me?" Buffy squared her shoulders and turned to face her mother. "No. But it means everything to me. Mom, you've never felt the kind of powerful love that I feel for Angel. You didn't feel it with Dad, I mean, that's obvious. It makes me impulsive, crazy, blind, and most of all, happy. You know what all of this made me realize?" "What, honey?" Joyce stared at her daughter's face, noting for the first time the dark circles under her eyes and the swelling in her cheeks from crying. "I've been going through the motions for months. I've been sleeping with Riley, letting him love me, and pretending that it's enough for me, but it's not anymore, Mom. I never stopped loving Angel. I never really let Riley into my heart. The only thing he touched on me was my body, and even then, he only scratched the surface." Realizing how open she was being, she blushed slightly, and sighed. "I know you don't like Angel, but this is my life. If I'm making a mistake, I'd rather make it and be happy, then not make it and keep going through the motions for everyone else's benefit." "Riley deserved much better than this." "He deserves much better than me. He deserves someone who can return his feelings and he'll find it. He's a good man." Joyce put her arm around Buffy's shoulder and squeezed her slightly. "Every motherly instinct I have is telling me that I'll regret this, but you have to do what makes you happy. You were wrong when you said I had never felt a love that powerful, baby. I did and I didn't react on it until it was too late. But that's another story, for another time. I don't want you to have a life filled with regret." Buffy watched her mother stand up and walk down the stairs. "Where are you going?" "No daughter of mine is going to make a two hour drive to Los Angeles on an empty stomach." <><><> Buffy drove into the heart of Los Angeles and parked in the parking deck next to the Los Angeles Police Department. She stepped from the car, smoothed her skirt, and fluffed her hair. She had one stop to make before she could go to Angel's. With her heels echoing on the pavement, she strolled toward the double doors. She saw Kate immediately and pasted a smile on her lips. A gust of cool air greeted her when she pulled the doors open and she walked straight toward the blond detective. "Miss Summers," Kate looked her up and down. "I certainly didn't expect to see you so soon. Or looking so well." "What? You thought that little phone call to Riley would upset me? Quite the contrary. Because of you, I was able to confront things head on and I'm on my way to see Angel." Smiling at the woman, Buffy leaned a little closer. "I know that you thought you were going to upset my life, and I'm thinking that your motivation has something to do with a certain vampire we both know, and I bet we both love. Here's a little news flash for you ... you're not his type and jealousy doesn't look good on anyone." Kate's eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared. "You think I'm in love with Angel? You're an idiot! His kind killed my father and -" "And you hate yourself for wanting him as much as you do! I've been there." Buffy noticed the candy dish on the counter and took a sucker, unrolling the paper and popping it in her mouth. "You should really be careful with what motivates you, Miss Lockley. You set out to destroy my life today and I hold a grudge." "Are you threatening me, Miss Summers?" Buffy took the sucker from her mouth, batting her eyelashes innocently. "Why, no ma'am. I'm just giving you fair warning. You tread where you're not wanted again and you'll find out just how much Angel and I have in common." With that, she spun on her heel and walked to her car. The smile on her face grew bigger with each passing second. <><><> Angel was sitting on the edge of his bed, trying to decide if he should try to sleep or call Buffy when someone knocked at his front door. He was barefoot, dressed in his pants and a T-shirt and he padded slowly across the room. It was probably Wesley or Cordelia coming to see why he was back so soon. Surely they were surprised when they saw his car in front of the office, especially since he told Cordy he'd be a few days. As much as he was enjoying brooding, he longed for company, any company, to dull the pain in his chest and take his mind off of Buffy. He unlocked the door and turned away, walking toward his kitchen. "Come in. It's open!" Buffy stepped inside, watching him disappear around the corner. She put her keys down on the nearest table and closed the door, turning the lock. Fidgeting, she slipped her heels off, digging her toes into his plush carpet. She didn't know if she should go into the kitchen, stand still, or call his name. He rounded the corner suddenly, a cup in his hand, and then stopped when he saw her. She shifted from one foot to the other, leaning against the front door. "I probably should have called first." "Don't worry about it." "How are you?" she frowned when she took in his appearance, his rumpled clothes and hair, the red rim around his eyes. He stared at her, wondering if she realized that the red dress she was wearing was the exact same one she had worn on the day that the Oracles erased. His throat constricted and his eyes welled at the memory, but he didn't look away. "Let's skip the pleasantries. Just tell me." "Angel-" She took a few tentative steps into the room, trying to find the right words. "Kate called Riley and told him about us. He pretty much freaked out and stormed out on me." He regarded her with a stony expression. "Is that why you're here? Because he doesn't want you anymore?" "No." Buffy walked to where he stood with his arms crossed and pulled his hands into hers. "It took seeing him walk away to make me realize that I didn't care if he walked away. Angel, I think I had convinced myself that I loved him, but I think it was more the idea of being in love with him that I was in love with. When you walked out on me, it felt like my entire world had just shriveled up and died and I wanted to die with it." She watched his face cloud suddenly and put her palm against his cheek. "When he walked out, I just kinda felt relieved." "I never meant to hurt you," he whispered, and the tears that had threatened to break free finally did. "Buffy, I-" "Angel, I never meant to hurt you either, but I did." Catching his tears with her thumb, she pulled his head down and kissed both of his cheeks. "I forgave you. Can you forgive me?" "Oh, baby." Wrapping his arms around her slim waist, he held her to him. "You've never done anything I should forgive you for." "Yes, I have. Angel, I let another man . . ." "Don't say it. If you don't say it, I won't believe it's real." Kissing her hair, he pulled back and looked down at her. "Buffy, let's forget it all. Let's forget what I've done and what you've done and just start here and now. I broke promises to you. I said things I didn't mean. And I walked out on you. I'll never do any of those things again." "Angel, for as long as I live, the only man for me will be you." She pulled him to the couch and sat next to him, pulling her feet up behind her. Taking his hand in hers, she kissed it and stared around his apartment. "We have a lot to talk about." "We really do." "Can it wait?" She looked over at him and yawned. "You've been the cause of many sleepless nights for me. It's only fair that you offer me your bed." "If I offer you my bed, I will be the cause of many more sleepless nights for you. Starting right now." He smiled at her, delighting in the rosy blush that crept into her cheeks. "You up for that?" "More to the point ... are you?" She raised her eyebrow, then giggled when he pretended to gasp. "Oh yeah," he said, standing up and holding a hand out toward her. "Word of warning though, I don't foresee getting tired anytime soon." "You may be human one day, Angel. I figure we better take advantage of that vampire prowess while you have it." She let him lead her into the bedroom and pick her up, laying her back on the bed. "So," he said, as he nuzzled the tops of her breasts. "Are you going to trade me in on a new vampire when that happens?" "Nope," she unzipped the side of her dress and let him slip it down her arms. "I'm in it for the long haul. Even when you lose your hair." Sitting up, he felt his hair, rubbing his forehead. "Do I have a receding hairline? Do you think I have the gene for male pattern baldness?" She laughed and sat up with him, tugging his T-shirt over his head. "No! And even if you did, I'd love you anyway. Besides, you might be nice looking as a cue ball." He grabbed her, pinning her back on the bed. "Is that right? Got anything you want to add to that?" "I think we've pretty much covered it," she told him, standing up to let her dress pool at her ankles. She was nude underneath, and she watched his eyes widen and roam over her freely. "You have anything to add to it?" Giving her a wry smile, he moved a hand between her legs. "I've got something to add here." "So it's the little less talk and a lot more action approach?" She unsnapped his pants and watched him kick them off. "My favorite." "We were meant to be," he told her. And proceeded to show her why for half the night.