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.

The End

Buffy/Angel fanfic